Driver Distraction

Cell phone use  |  Texting  |  Inattention

It is commonly believed that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. However very few people understand the cognitive processing issues that make the attempted multitasking so dangerous. People often suggest that talking on a cell phone is similar to talking with in-vehicle passengers, or adjusting the radio. And aren't children an even bigger distraction? These are common opinions and questions, but they all are based on a poor foundation of the problem.

Drivers must concurrently perform several tasks to safely operate a motor vehicle, including speed regulation, lane-keeping, checking mirrors and other locations for potential conflicts, and responding to unexpected events. When drivers engage in other secondary tasks, such as cell phone use, additional time is required for them to detect and respond to roadway hazards. This delay in reaction time decreases the likelihood that drivers will be able to appropriately respond to an unexpected hazard in time to avoid a collision. Many other factors are considered when evaluating the ability of a driver to detect a roadway hazard, including the driver's expectation of the hazard, the available illumination, and the size, color and contrast of the object. In addition, our research has demonstrated how the cognitive distractions create an "inattention blindness", which inhibits drivers from detecting and responding to roadway hazards at all, even when other factors are adequate for detection.

Along with the juror's perception of cell phone use while driving, and related concerns, there are specific human factors in each motor vehicle collision that must be adequately investigated, and succinctly explained to the jury. When relevant, cell phone records and data usage should also be analyzed to evaluate the probability that the operator was using, or distracted by, the cell phone, and led to the collision.