Friedman, Hirschen & Miller, LLP

Distracted behaviors

New York is one of a small collection of states that has passed legislation banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Just this month, according to Newsday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new road safety proposal addressing teens who text and drive as well as drunk drivers. The governor and his administration are hoping that the proposal will reduce the number of fatal auto accidents in the state.

In 2013, New York passed legislation addressing drivers under the age of 21, who are convicted of traffic violations. Under the new law, young drivers will lose their license if they accumulate 10 points on it within a year and half. The point penalty was also increased for young drivers who are convicted of texting and driving.

Distraction.gov states that 421,000 people in the U.S. were injured and over 3,300 people were killed in collisions involving a distracted driver during 2012. While distraction is often associated with cellphones and texting, people in Albany County should keep in mind that any activity which encourages drivers to take their focus off of driving is distractive. This includes eating, talking with passengers, texting, watching a video, grooming and using a navigation system.

Many people have resorted to voice-activated technology in their vehicle, believing that these in-vehicle programs are safer than using a cellphone and can prevent them from getting into a broadside collision or head-on accident. However, USA Today reports that a new study on cognitive distraction shows the opposite.

Measuring cognitive distraction

The study, which focused entirely on mental distraction, was conducted by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety. Over 150 participants were asked to engage in different tasks as researchers recorded their brain waves and physical actions through sensors, cameras and other devices. The participants were tested in an instrumented vehicle, a laboratory and a driving simulator and the tasks included the following:

  • Talking with a passenger.
  • Listening to a radio.
  • Using a hand-held phone.
  • Listening to an audio book.
  • Interacting with a speech-to-text email system.
  • Using a hands-free phone.

In addition, researchers also asked the drivers to focus solely on driving in order to create a starting point for their cognitive distraction scale. The researchers then took the data collected and compared it against the beginning point on the scale to determine which activities created the most mental distraction.

The most distracting behavior

The findings from the study showed that drivers' mental distraction grew with the complexity of the task they were asked to perform. The most distracting was the use of speech-to-text technology, followed by hand-held cellphone use and talking with a passenger. Data showed that drivers failed to visually scan their environment as frequently, missed visual cues that could alert them to a potentially dangerous situation and were slower to hit the brakes.

Accidents caused by distracted drivers can result in catastrophic injuries that impact a person for the rest of his or her life. When people are injured they should contact an experienced attorney to understand what their legal options are.