By on October 22, 2015

texting behind the wheel of death

Drivers may take nearly 30 seconds to regain their focus back on the road after using a car’s infotainment or hands-free smartphone systems, researchers announced Wednesday.

The two studies, which were conducted by the University of Utah (Go Utes!) for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, concluded that even modern assist programs could dangerously distract drivers for up to 27 seconds after they’re done using them. Researchers noted that vehicles traveled more than 300 yards for 27 seconds at 25 mph.

“Just because these systems are in the car doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them while you are driving,” University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, senior author of the two new studies, said in a statement. “They are very distracting, very error prone and very frustrating to use. Far too many people are dying because of distraction on the roadway, and putting another source of distraction at the fingertips of drivers is not a good idea. It’s better not to use them when you are driving.”

Distracted Driving Chart

Researchers found that Chevrolet’s MyLink (Equinox), Buick’s IntelliLink (Lacrosse) and Toyota’s Entune (4Runner) were the least distracting models among the systems tested, although all three still ranked as “moderately distracting” to drivers. Researchers said the Sync MyFord Touch (Taurus), Volkswagen Car-Net (Passat) Nissan Connect (Altima), Chrysler Uconnect (200C) and Hyundai Blue Link (Sonata) all ranked “highly distracting.” Mazda’s Connect (Mazda6) rated as “very highly distracting.”

Similar systems in different cars, such as Chevrolet’s MyLink ranked differently, which researchers said could be attributed to varying road noise from the cars.

Researchers also found that voice-activated systems from Google, Apple and Microsoft all rated as “highly distracting” when given voice commands for navigation. Microsoft’s Cortana rated “very highly distracting” when trying to send a text.

“The voice-command technology isn’t ready,” Joel Cooper, a University of Utah research assistant professor of psychology and a co-author of the new studies, said in a statement. “It’s in the cars and is billed as a safe alternative to manual interactions with your car, but the voice systems simply don’t work well enough.”

Distracted Driver studyResearchers tested the systems with 257 drivers for the infotainment and 65 people for the smartphone study. Participants were asked to respond when an LED light flashed and researchers measured drivers’ attentions to how quickly they responded to the lights.

Or you could just give up trying to Facebook in the car.

“These systems are often very difficult to use, especially if you’re just trying to entertain yourself. … The vast majority of people we tested ended up being frustrated by the complexity and error-prone nature of the systems,” Strayer said.

(H/T to David)

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33 Comments on “Study: Distracted Drivers Stay Distracted, Even After They’ve Sent Super Clever Text...”


  • avatar

    Texting while driving is OK so long as you look up every once in a while!!!

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I can’t remember the exact wheres, whos, etc., but there was a credible study (peer reviewed) done at a major & respected university that clearly indicated that speaking to someone on the phone while driving via hands-free speaker was exactly as distracting as speaking to them while driving AND holding the phone, to the point that people would completely fail to yield at traffic signs, miss turns, and even fail to stop at red lights.

    The researchers concluded that the portion of the brain used in focusing/concentrating on conversing with another person is incredibly resource intensive, and can actually delay physical responses.

    Based on personal experience and observing others as they converse on hands-free speaker phones, I personally believe this to be compelling.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Why was a minivan without plates driving this morning on Broadway at about 4 mph in Bus Only lane? You guessed it, checking out his emails.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    I’ve driven for decades, and I’m convinced that it’s not always just one thing at work. Bigtruck makes a good point about passengers sometimes being a distraction. You’ve surely seen drivers who are constantly looking over at the passenger. Eating or drinking is a distraction. Driver fatigue is a form of distraction too. And who can fail to see the effects of alcohol and drugs, not all of which are illegal? Then there are all the drivers who are low skill and aren’t even aware of the basic rules of the road. Did I mention texting, emailing, reading the newspaper, adjusting the music, putting on makeup? One could go on. Add all these together and maybe the only real solution is autonomous vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      According to this study–and these people are really good–passengers are a relatively minor distraction. Same, in my experience, with the radio. If I’m driving and the traffic gets complex, I’ll just stop talking to a passenger, and if I’m listening to the radio, my mind just automatically drops the radio.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        Conversations with passengers work better because they recognize when you drop out to concentrate exclusively on driving. Someone on the other end of the phone has no idea.

        • 0 avatar
          SunnyvaleCA

          “Conversations with passengers work better because they recognize when you drop out to concentrate exclusively on driving. Someone on the other end of the phone has no idea.

          I think this is exactly right. That’s why the radio or a passenger conversation are considerably less distracting and most definitely not the same thing as using the phone (either hand-held or via speaker).

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It’s not like you can’t just ‘tune out’ or ignore the phone conversation, just the same or more, than you can ‘tune out’ the passenger conversation, when traffic demands your full attention.

        I’ve covered at least 100,000 driven miles while on the phone (hand held), or as a passenger with the driver on the phone. Zero accidents. Not so much as a close call, from the phone distraction.

        Except I’ve been involved in exactly *one* distracted driving accident, (as a passenger) from me distracting the driver with highly charged banter.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      A study like this would be more informative if it included a distraction index for conversing with a passenger – using the same or similar script as conversing with a someone using a hands-free phone. My wife loves her new Camry with basic Entune, steering wheel on/off hook buttons, voice activated calling, all bluetooth synched to her iPhone. Mechanically, at least, it isn’t very distracting. So is there a special part of the brain dedicated to cell phone conversation that isn’t engaged when talking to a passenger?
      OTOH, wife found that she couldn’t do books on tape at all. Went way by her interstate exit last time she listened, which made it last time she was going to try.

      edit – DH, you beat me to it and read the article also.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      After backing into the garbage cans one too many times, I’ve had to train my 6-year-old to keep quiet until I’ve successfully backed out.

      It’s taken some doing, but he eventually learned that whatever he wants to tell me can wait until I’m safely out of the garage (“Daddy, daddy, did you know that Pokemon…” [crash!]).

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I want comparative distraction numbers for “using a phone to do the same in your hands”, “talking to a passenger”, and “adjusting the radio”.

    No context, no value.

    • 0 avatar

      They measured distraction level from “mild”=1 to maximum=5.

      They got a score of 2.5 for hand-held calls and 2.3 for hands-free calls. Listening to a book on tape was 1.7, and listening to the radio was 1.2. Interaction with in vehicle info system averaged 3.34, ranged from 2.37-4.57 (moderate to high cognitve workload).

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Good; wish that’d been in the extract.

        Still want a “conversation with passenger” rating, though I’m sure it’d vary a lot.

        So the real takeaway is that voice-interaction info systems are often way worse [though I’d love to know the magnitude details] than a mere phone call.

        And to think I just don’t use ’em ’cause I don’t like talking to inanimate objects *other than to swear at them*.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Clearly a stick-shift only society would fix this situation! Lets us pillage and plunder the slushbox weaklings!

    For every “texter” I’ll see someone driving with a dog in the passenger seat, smoking, eating, drinking, fidgeting about, doing make-up, jerk-shifting from 1-2, setting their GPS, watching TV, or just doing anything not driving related.

    The issue is nothing to do with modern tech, rather our modern impatient yet detached habits.

    Perhaps the closest call I’ve ever had didnt involve a phone as much as a driver who was too busy conversing with his passenger, all the while jumping lane to lane between traffic carelessly in their late 2000’s Eclipse. Thankfully an old device of mine called a “horn” was able to wake them up into a panic-brake.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      Most younger people would either burn out the clutch, crash while trying to upshift/downshift, or more than likely, never shift above 3rd gear in town. Just run it at 3600RPM all day long, because texting!

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Sadly you’re pretty much right:

        Late-mid 90’s Acura Integra: On the highway couldnt keep with the flow of traffic, shifted about roughly.

        Vintage VW Beetle: Would jump into gear whenever I saw the car, I havent seen it in a long while so maybe the clutch is dead. It WAS a pizza delivery car

        Riced out Nissan 180SX: Despite the bodykit and junk 20mph seems reasonable to this guy, in a 40mph zone with the revs high up. I dont think he was texting as much as just being lazy.

        But dont tell that to the third-pedal religious types you find on every other article, I await the day we hear that manuals can prevent cancer via making you use your body more frequently.

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          My first vehicle was an F-150 with a 5 speed. I still have that truck, and an old Dodge W250 with a 4 speed manual. I also drove a Dakota with a 5 Speed, and a 1989 Scottsdale with a 4 speed. I’ve never driven a car with a stick shift.

          That said, I prefer the manual in a work truck. When towing, I have complete input. Here in Wyoming, you don’t shift much. Going from Casper to Cheyenne would be 150 miles in your high gear without a single shift.

          In town, it can be a bit of a nuisance with the Dodge, but that’s because 1st gear isn’t synchronized, and second is just a little too high to start out in.

          In a major city, I’d rather have an automatic. From an old Ford C-6 up to the 5 speed automatic in my Audi, the experience would be nicer in traffic.

          But, I’ll always have a place for a manual transmission truck. For heavy farm work, they’re worth it….

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            I love the ZF in our F-350 V10, but the 4.30 rear end (while great for towing 20,000 lbs of trailer from a dead stop) means that once you get to 70 on the interstate, that’s it. You can’t go any faster without getting uncomfortably close to redline. It almost needs a double overdrive, or a split rear end like the grain truck.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            The Gear Vendors is worth it. Just for doing 50 mph in reverse!

  • avatar
    Motorhead10

    Not sure of the article you are referring to – there was (what sounds like) a similar version in ‘A Deadly Wandering’ by Matt Richtel. I’m summarizing but it was something like college students in a driving simulator going to a location they weren’t familiar with – and they introduced hands-free calls from ‘friends’ that would chat for a while and then give directions. Most drivers remembered all details of the conversations but had no idea how many right turns, stop signs, etc it took to get to the location. Oh, and their driving (which wasn’t the point of the test) was terrible. It was the most amazing book I’ve ever read – and convinced me we would all be better off if we just let the machines drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Did they remember turns and stops if NOT on the phone?

      I mean, I don’t remember the details of a drive even if I’m alone and not on the phone and even with no music on.

      Because *why would I remember that*?

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    IMO getting a blowjob is more distracting then any of this stuff.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Hey that’s a Samsung Intensity II! I’m on my third one. It can open a beer!

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    The phone s/he is holding is the one i currently use!

    Can’t say i like it, but if you want Verizon, and don’t need data, you are condemned to it.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I see lot’s of studies ranking distraction levels and reaction times, but relatively few (if any) correlating distraction level with safety/danger. It’s intuitively obvious, so I don’t trust it unless it’s proven. There may be mitigating factors like not engaging in risk adding maneuvers as often while knowingly distracted. How does not jockeying for position and changing lanes as often balance out the distraction level? Is it measured by anyone, or is it too issue money neutral to be funded?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The results of a different U of Utah study that introduced variability into the test:

      Results indicated that, when drivers conversed on the cell phone, they made fewer lane changes, had a lower overall mean speed, and a significant increase in travel time in the medium and high density driving conditions. Drivers on the cell phone were also much more likely to remain behind a slower moving lead vehicle than drivers in single-task condition.

      http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/LC.pdf

      This could explain why crash rates of phone users have been below average. Distracted driving may be preferable to the alternative of higher speeds, more lane changes, and more tailgating.

      The typical simulator study controls for all variables but braking. That’s fine for showing reduced reaction time, but that sort of testing misses that drivers in the real world will also vary in their choices of speeds, lane changes and following distances. I suspect that the phone ends up serving as a sort of pacifier for a fair share of drivers, which means that they actually improve things to some degree.

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