Coping with Cognitive Distraction
October 17, 2018
By Eugene Herbert
Most competent drivers readily acknowledge that they attempt to drive to the best possible standard at all times but no matter how professional, at some point every driver will experience moments of tunnel vision — a sort of mental “checking out” that means they are no longer fully focused on the task at hand. Typical of this situation is where a driver doesn’t see that which is normally obvious such as a cyclist or an oncoming car or that vehicle in the intersection “which shouldn’t be there” and of course we know the result – a possible collision and injuries.
Experts call this cognitive distraction. It’s a real and very human phenomenon and your drivers who spend and inordinate amount of time on the road should understand it, so they are better equipped to avoid it.
A leading road safety organisation and researchers from the University of Utah teamed up to study cognitive distraction. Their goal: Study the brain activity of drivers and better understand what is happening in their brains.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded it is not just eyes on the road and hands on the wheel that ensure safe driving, but a driver’s brain needs to be fully focused on driving.
The researchers used a variety of tests on drivers including EEG skullcaps with electrodes that analyze brain activity and determine focus levels. They also placed cameras in vehicles and tracked eye and head movement to test ability to see hazards on the roadways. Finally they used detection reaction time light tasks (DRT) to record reaction time when behind the wheel.
Overall, the researchers found that people tend to miss a plethora of visual information on a regular basis. Moreover, when drivers engaged in more challenging tasks while simultaneously operating the vehicle, they tended to miss pedestrians or other cars in their path.
The moral of the story – stay focussed on the task at hand and don’t attempt to “multitask” reasoning that because you are professional you are the exception.