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Sixth Sense And Distracted Driving

Driving is such commonplace nowadays, that your morning commute probably feels like groundhog day. You might find yourself on autopilot doing the same journey day after day, with your eyes wandering from the road and onto the scenery lining the motorway. And that’s fine, driving itself doesn’t take 100% of our concentration.

Learning to drive is an exception, but once we have learnt every required subtask involved with the driving process, we can code the subtasks into a subroutine which can be processed automatically. Each subroutine can be performed simultaneously and almost without our conscious attention. Of course, paying close attention to other driver’s movements on busy roads and always staying aware is essential. But is there a sixth sense protecting us whilst driving? Or is it concentration alone?

Scientists at the University of Houston believe there is. The research they carried out involved 59 volunteers earlier this year, studying how drivers behave when they are absent minded, emotionally charged or distracted by texting. Out of the three distractions, texting caused participants to lane drift and their driving was unsafe. In the other two distractions, drivers were jittery in the handling of the wheel, but their steering resulted in straighter trajectories which matched normal and safer driving. The scientists found that this paradox was linked with the brain’s hand-eye coordination loop and it’s ‘fight or flight’ instinct, otherwise known as the anterior cingulate cortex. When a driver is texting the hand-eye coordination loop is broken, shutting off the ACC leaving the driver unable to correct wrong movements. Whereas in the other two distraction cases the brain’s ACC automatically intervenes, when there is a strong steer to the left, it is counterbalanced by an equally strong steer to the right and vice versa. The leading scientist of the study Loannis Pavlidis claimed “the driver’s mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course.” So it seems we do have a sixth sense to protect us when we’re driving, who knew?

The research above can be used to help protect drivers when self-driving cars are brought onto the market. The scientists believe the knowledge they have learnt can help develop systems that alert drivers when they are distracted.

According to research by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in the US, more than 3,100 people were killed in 2014 through distracted driving. Dr. Scott Armen, Chief of Trauma at a medical centre in Penn State says “younger drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes resulting from distracted driving because of their sense of invincibility and their lack of experience.” So if distracted driving is a growing problem then what can you do to prevent being involved in accidents from it?


Top tips to avoid distracted driving


hands free phone stop distracted driving
1.    Buy a phone holder for your car, so that it is not easily accessible when driving
2.    Use automatic replies on your smartphone when you receive a call while driving
3.    Buy a hands-free device to take calls while driving
4.    If you need to reply to a message, use the dictation feature (on iPhone and Android) which lets you write a message through speech
5.    Download the iOnRoad app, which alerts drivers whether they are too close to the car in front and gives estimated stopping times in real time. It isn’t perfect as when using it you (ironically) keep one eye on the screen and not on the road
6.    Drivemode is the dashboard app for Android that is perfect for hands-free phone use. It uses an enlarged overlay to display the apps you are already using and you can block or receive calls with a swipe, set auto-reply messages and launch music apps at the touch of a button.
7.    Set-up your GPS for your route before you start driving

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