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From pamphlets to billboards to commercials, drivers have learned that the three types of driving distractions are manual, visual and cognitive. Manual refers to actions that force a driver to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel. Visual distractions pull the eyes from the road. Cognitive distractions, however, are challenging to quantify. Most people simply chalk them up to “daydreaming” while behind the wheel. While this might be true, cognitive distractions are a bit more far-reaching than that.

Researchers at the University of Sussex designed one large study that contained two experiments.

The first experiment

Study participants were divided into three groups.

  • Group 1: The first group of participants could complete a simulated driving course while facing no distractions.
  • Group 2: The second group completed the exact same simulated driving course while answering true or false questions. The questions were verbal only and required no mental imagery to complete.
  • Group 3: The third group drove while answering true or false questions that required the creation of mental imagery to accurately answer. For example, they might be asked a question that depended on the positioning of various occupants of a rowboat.

The researchers found that the group required to drive while developing mental imagery detected the fewest road hazards during the simulated course.

The second experiment

In the second experiment, the study participants were divided into two groups.

  • Group 1: The first group of participants could complete a simulated driving course while facing no distractions.
  • Group 2: The second group of participants were asked to complete the simulated driving course while following mental map instructions. These drivers were told to visualize a 3 x 3 grid with them occupying the center square. They were then told to “move” to various grid squares while driving.

The researchers found that those in Group 2 had slower reaction times to road hazards and often looked directly at a hazard without reacting to it at all.

Distracted drivers can come in many forms. From eating to grooming to talking on the phone, drivers are well-advised to keep the entirety of their focus on the task at hand. If you were injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, it is crucial that you explore your legal options for monetary compensation.