The Surprising Results of One Safety Technology

My mom has discovered texting at 79 years of age.  It’s very entertaining to read the text messages she sends.  My mom feels like a technology power user because she discovered she doesn’t have to type text messages on her Android smart phone; she has speech to text capability.  What’s entertaining is the spelling that comes through on her texts due to her thick Southern drawl.

While speech to text technology was partially designed as a safety technology making it safer to use our phones when we’re driving, the results have proven it’s not very effective.  The University of Utah published the results of a two year study in 2013.  The study focused on “cognitive distraction,” a condition most drivers aren’t aware of.  When it occurs, a disconnect takes place between what we’re seeing visually and what our brain is processing.  We can roll through a stop sign or a red light because we didn’t “see” it.

The University of Utah researchers conducted a series of studies that took place in driving simulators and on the road driving tests.  Participants wore a cap outfitted with electrodes to record how their brains responded to a series of rapidly increasing distractions.  Not surprising, the more distractions the drivers experienced, the more distracted the drivers’ focus was on the road and their driving.  This was noted by a change in brain waves.  The study confirmed two interesting findings:

  • The more complex and absorbing a task, the greater the distraction from the road.
  • The longer it took to complete the task, whether it was a conversation, a message, or setting a GPS destination, the worse the distraction became.

There was one additional finding of the study; speech to text technology was the most cognitively distracting.  In other words, the very technology that’s supposed to make us safer drivers when we use our smart phones, has the opposite effect; our traffic safety is compromised.

The Utah study also highlighted a problem referred to as “inattention blindness,” where a person may “see” something but it doesn’t register in the brain.  The person sees the stopped car or shifting traffic pattern but it takes longer before they realize that they need to stop, change lanes or alter their driving in some way to avoid being involved in an accident.

Distracted driving, according to Federal studies, was a factor in about 10% of all fatal accidents nationwide in 2011.  This means approximately 3,331 deaths were due to distracted driving, which was slightly more than in 2010.  It also contributed to 387,000 people injured in car wrecks involving at least one distracted driver.

What do you think should be done to reduce or eliminate distracted driving?  Share your comments, suggestions, and questions with me in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook and Google + pages.  I’d love to hear from you!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise


Evie Wise
Evie Wise

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