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Cognitive distraction II: Technological distractions

The first cognitive distraction study published by AAA focused on determining whether hands-free cellular devices were any less distracting than hand-held cellphones. Surprisingly, the results showed that the hands-free cellphone was only slightly less distracting than the hand-held model. Interestingly enough, the task that measured highest on the distraction scale was the one involving the use of voice-activated technology. Using this information, another study was conducted to find out more about this technology and the cause of distraction to drivers.

Voice-activated technology was developed to remove driver distractions by allowing them to complete tasks using their voice. For instance, drivers could compose an email, dial a phone number and talk, text, perform navigation features and activate the radio all with a simple voice command. Errors in the technology, however, presents a significant danger to drivers in the form of cognitive distraction. The study had participants use different types of in-vehicle voice technology installed in vehicles by manufacturers, as well as voice technology available on cellular devices.

According to the National Safety Council, cognitive distraction occurs when the driver’s concentration is taken off of the road and is directed to another activity, such as talking on the phone. The human brain can only focus on one complex task at a time. When it is forced to engage in two simultaneous activities, it switches back and forth from one task to the other. This leaves moments when drivers are not concentrating on the road at all. When a mistake occurred in the voice-activated device, the motorist’s focus was taken off of the road and directed toward the malfunctioning system. 

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