Distracted versus Drunk Driving

You hear the phrase “drunk driving” and then you hear the phrase “distracted driving”. Your brain automatically condemns “drunk driving” and most likely brushes “distracted driving” aside. Compared to “drunk driving”, “distracted driving” seems like nothing. 

Let’s reconsider that common misconception.

A graphic comparing distracted and drunk driving.

A study conducted using a driving simulator at Tufts observed a group of undistracted drivers, a group of distracted drivers, and a group of intoxicated drivers (BAC = .08) in a car-following paradigm. The drivers followed a lead car that braked randomly, which required timely reactions.

What do you think the results showed? Most would typically assume that drunk drivers performed worse than distracted drivers. However, distracted drivers displayed slower response times than intoxicated drivers. Interestingly, these drivers tried to compensate for being distracted by increasing their following distance but still experienced more rear-end accidents than intoxicated drivers.

Notably, drivers are hopefully likely to be more cautious on the road than in a driving simulator. It is important to note the extent to which technology distracts drivers on the road. Technology of various types is distracting in different ways. Talking on the phone, texting, and the use of in-vehicle technology have all proven to be major and dangerous distractions. 

Reading or sending that one quick text is much more dangerous than you would think.

We often think that hands-free technology use in vehicles is safe. While it is much safer than non-hands-free technology, it still comes with risks because of the cognitive load that is going into the task. Another study looked at drivers in a speech-to-text condition. Results showed that drivers braked even slower in this condition than in the cell phone condition. Additionally, they scanned less at intersections and reported a higher level of mental workload than other conditions.

It can always wait, especially if it means saving lives.

Unfortunately, we have been convinced that technology does not take much away from our ability to successfully and safely complete tasks. More research is necessary, but these findings exhibit the pressing nature of these studies and conversations. Hopefully, we can find a way to implement technology in a way that ensures safety.

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