A new report published today (20 Nov) confirms the dangers of ‘multi-tasking’ while driving, and identifies texting and talking on a mobile phone as the ‘most dangerous of driving multi-tasks’.
‘The battle for attention’, jointly produced by Dr Neale Kinnear and Dr Alan Stevens from the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), and Neil Greig from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), has been published in advance of Road Safety Week 2015 (23-29 Nov).
Dr Kinnear, who is a principal psychologist in the study of human behaviour and transport, and Dr Stevens, who is chief scientist and research director with internationally recognised expertise in ‘Human-Machine Interaction’, both reviewed existing research behind in-car distractions to understand the various cognitive processes and complexities in driving.
Their research focuses on the dangers involved when drivers try and engage in more than one task, with results confirming it can have a ‘detrimental’ effect on the quality and accuracy of driving performance.
Looking at the five key areas of distraction – cognitive, visual, auditory, manual and exposure time – the research shows that texting engages three of these to a ‘high’ level – cognitive, visual and manual. A mobile phone conversation also engages three of five areas of distraction to a ‘high’ level – cognitive, audible and exposure time.
The research also found that eating and smoking while driving result in a high level of manual distraction, and that external signage and roadside advertising can create high levels of visual distraction.
While sat-navs are not highly distracting, they do provide a medium level of cognitive and visual distraction, and exposure time.
The report concludes: “Research has confirmed that tasks almost always interfere with other tasks carried out at the same time. The brain never actually focuses on two tasks at the same time – it switches back and forward between them.
“As driving is so complex and requires various cognitive processes, taking on another task when driving can mean a driver is unable to pay sufficient attention to all the activities required for safe driving. This can lead to a processing failure resulting in a loss of control, putting the driver and other road users in physical danger.”
Sarah Sillars, IAM’s chief executive officer, said: “This is proof, should it be needed, that multi-tasking and driving simply don’t mix.
“While there are plenty of distractions to tempt the driver, the individual needs to know that the phone, or internet, or the iPod simply don’t matter – driving is the only activity that should occupy your mind while at the wheel.
“It’s important that we work with the government, car makers and educators to deliver a renewed focus on driver training and road safety – and that people know that distractions can be fatal.”