While there have always been distractions that can take a driver’s attention from the road, the rise in cell-phones and in-vehicle entertainment systems have increased safety concerns.
The U.S. government, safety researchers and the automotive industry have been studying ways to reduce driver distraction, from creating policies limiting or prohibiting the use of hand-held devices in a vehicle, to de-activating components of in-vehicle systems that could compete for a driver’s attention.
Initiatives like these often address two critical factors in driver distraction – visual distraction, where a driver removes his or her eyes from the road, and manual distraction, where a driver removes his or her hands from the wheel. However, they leave unanswered a third critical problem – cognitive distraction, where the driver takes his or her mind from the road.
Today, very little published research has looked at how human cognition relates to driver performance. Indeed, while it is generally recognized that the human mind can only focus on so many tasks at one time, there is no empirical data to support a theory connecting cognitive distraction to crash events, and current technology does not account for potential cognitive distractions to a driver.
Through the CSRC, Toyota and Wayne State University School of Medicine have teamed up to fill this gap in our understanding of driver distraction, creating a new model of cognitive distraction that will combine knowledge of driver performance, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience.
For the first time, a scientific definition of attentional networks will be applied to cognitive distraction while driving. Driver performance dimensional analysis of cognitive distraction and classification of tasks will be combined with the formal definitions of the three kinds of attention as developed by Posner (alerting, orienting and executive attention).
The project will investigate the relationship between driver characteristics and the demands associated with in-vehicle driver tasks. Researchers will study drivers’ responses to visual-manual tasks and auditory-vocal tasks, both with varying degrees of workload (low to high). Building on past research specific tasks used in The Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP) Driver Workload Metrics (DWM) project will be used to assess the impact of cognitive distraction on driver behavior.
Once the model has been created, laboratory simulator tools will be developed to validate the expected results from lab tests of driver distraction. Additional validation will compare simulator results against actual on-road driving data.
After the relevant secondary tasks have been identified and specific driver behavior has been validated as being influenced by cognitive distraction, the project will move to developing countermeasures. These may include in-vehicle systems designed to alert a driver or improve driver abilities, or recommended regulations such as rule of lockout.
This study of cognitive distraction will take place over three years, with the first two focused on developing and validating the cognitive driver distraction model and the third devoted to developing countermeasures.