Eye Tracking Study Finds Cell Phones Not Leading Cause of Driver Distraction
People do bizarre things when they are in their car and think no one is watching. Whether it’s chowing down a burrito, rocking out to a song on the radio, or putting on mascara, their attention is not 100% on the road. In a nation built on the ideal that “time is money,” we are master multitaskers, but doing so while controlling the movement of a speeding hunk of metal is not the safest idea. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA), over 1 million crashes in North America are caused as a result of driver inattention. The first thing that comes to mind when discussing the topic of distracted drivers is mobile phones; however, a recent study by AAA using eye tracking technology found that cell phones were not the leading culprit.
The study used hidden eye-tracking cameras to monitor the eye movements of 70 participants while they drove for 3 hours. The results showed that non-technological distractions like eating and drinking, adjusting the AC, or grooming were more dangerous than cell phone use because they happen more frequently. Over 90% of the drivers were distracted while reaching for something and 75% took their eyes off the road while eating or drinking. Surprisingly, only 30% used a mobile phone in the car, and if they did, the average conversation was only one and a half minutes.
There may, however, be some important measures missing from this study. While eye-tracking devices can indicate whether a driver’s eyes are looking at the road or somewhere else, it cannot gauge the amount of focus the driver has on each activity. Even if a driver’s eyes are on the road while talking on the phone, the conversation requires a portion of the driver’s mental capacity, reducing their concentration and attention to their surroundings.
Next time you find yourself staring at the driver next to you who is picking his nose, realize that you may be even more distracted than he is. So keep your eyes on the road, and you will keep yourself and those around you safe from the risks of driver inattention.