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Driving Blind? Eye Tracking Study Shows Cell Phones Cause Inattention Blindness

We’ve all experienced the frustration of sharing the road with distracted drivers. Whether it’s the teenager who cut you off because the giant iPhone attached to the side of their head was blocking their blind spot, or the guy in front of you driving 10 miles under the speed limit because he can’t dial and watch the speedometer at the same time, drivers distracted by cell phones are a safety hazard. Dr. David Strayer of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah has used a drive simulator and eye tracking device to study the impact of cell phones on driving. The results clearly show that cell phones disrupt driving performance whether your eyes are on the road or not.

Drivers in the study’s driving simulator had a delayed reaction to critical events like red lights or road hazards when they were engaged in a cell phone conversation. The eye-tracking device used in the study recorded exactly where on the screen the driver was looking. It showed when drivers talking on the phone failed to look at street signs and traffic signals; however, it wasn’t completely accurate at gauging awareness. Because of the limited attention capacity of the human brain, the driver’s gaze would sometimes fall on an object, but that wouldn’t mean they actually “saw” it—the objects weren’t mentally registered. Dr. Strayer refers to this as “inattention blindness.”

I don’t know about you, but having to watch out for drivers experiencing any type of blindness scares me! Some states, like California for example, have taken actions to reduce the hazards of distracted driving and passed laws that require cell phones to be “hands-free” while operating a vehicle. Unfortunately, it’s not what the hands are doing that distracts drivers; it is the fact that their concentration is being split between the conversation and what’s happening on the road. Sometimes it’s hard to tell your best friend on the phone that their most recent catastrophe is going to have to wait until you arrive at your destination. But the truth is, no matter how good you think you are at multitasking, driving requires 100% of your attention.

Why driving and cell phones don’t mix