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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Cognitive Distraction

Mobile Phone, Sat Nav, Traffic Info, FM and
DAB Radio, CD Player, MP3 player plus a
whole menu system for vehicle setup and
air conditioning system. 
Ping - theirs that important email you were expecting. Ding - text message from your partner. Bleep - best friend just updated Facebook. Tweet tweet, their goes someones update on twitter. Bleep - colleague posting an update on Linkedin. whistle - that's new? wait, thats google plus your trying out. Hold on... I'm sure I was suppose to watch that video on You Tube, but then again a friend posted a great idea on Pinterest about their kitchen - might just take a look at that. No wait... someone's written about kitchen DIY on their blog. Who was it?... Ring ring, phone call from your partner - who's been waiting for a text back.

And all that has just happened on a smart phone in the last 10 minutes. Plenty to think about. Plenty of distractions. What if I said that many of what I've just discribe happens behind the wheel, while driving! However it's fine, because the phone is mounted on the dash and it's hands free. Right? er no, wrong. Very wrong indeed!

Let me explain. I little experiment is needed. Turn on a speeched based radio station, BBC Radio 4 is a good example. Listen for 30 seconds and then complete the following sums in your head. 45 + 30 (= 75),plus 5 divide by 2 then add the number days in February (non leap year) Plus 2. You should have got 50. If you didn't don't worry, it's not the answer that's important, it's what was said on the radio while you was working that out that's important here. I bet most people didn't hear what was said on the radio during that task. It's because our minds concentrated on what seemed to be the most important task at hand, which was the arithmetic. Our cognitive minds filtered out the radio. And for good reason. Human minds really can not multi task (yes ladies, you too can not multi task (Cue the comments from angry ladies!))

Lets put that in context with driving.

Your driving along the motorway Traffic is heavy but moving nicely at 60/70 mph. The phone rings, you immediately look at the phone mounted on the dash, or infotainment system which has bluetooth connection with your phone. Your eyes are off the road for 2 seconds. You've travelled 63 meters with your eyes on the phone! It's your boss, so you answer. He or she wants to know how long your going to be, and you start to work out timings of your journey. You don't notice that the vehicle in front has seen traffic slowing down up the road and starts to slow down by easing off the throttle. No brake lights illuminated so you don notice your vehicle is getting closer thus reducing your braking distance to less then a second. All of a sudden you notice your close and in the next lane their is a gap so you take it, Bang! You jump and see a person in leathers, seemingly jumping on your bonnet and disappear in front of the car. You now brake hard not sure on what's going on. You first think the a motorcycle has just cut you up and misjudged it. Your boss still on the phone now says “are you listening to me?” You look around and the traffic has come to a stop. Your between lanes and now not sure what to do. What has just happened is while you were working out journey times, you noticed a gap and decide to take it not looking in your mirrors, over shoulder check or indeed indicated. You've clipped a motorcycle who's filtering through the traffic and you didn't notice it.

Extreme you may think, but this could very we'll be  real world situation.

Research shows that when we are distracted our senses reduce. Our vision reduces and our mind concentrates on other matters. We can only concentrate on a number of things at any one time. When the phone rings and we're talking about work issues and not giving 100% to the thoughts of driving.

It's not just hands free phone call that's a problem. Traffic builds up, so we operate our sat nav’s to re-route and avoid the traffic. High spec vehicles now have infotainment systems. These are sat nav, 3D mapping, traffic info, MP3 players, DAB radio, fuel and MPG info with high resolution graphics. Bluetooth connection to phones, with full address book and voice activation and some even has the ability to read back your incoming text messages and Facebook status. All of this is entering our consciousness and our minds are picking and choosing what to take in any one time. Distractions in the car often takes priority in our minds. In some cases we can be over come with information overload from all the gadgets, communication system and vehicle tech. It's very easy to switch our concentration to the devices instead of the road. Indeed, we're more prone to be distracted on empty or not so busy motorway journeys and the most familiar roads you might drive on each day - the journey to work for example.

So how can a driver re-address this issue of distractions from our tech. Firstly, why not switch the phone off. If you feel you can't, then do what I do. Answer the phone only to your partner and anyone who has an importance in your life. Your child or indeed the childminder for example. But only when I've cleared any junctions or major hazards. Never answer a work call. No boss will sack you for not answering your phone while driving. And of course only on hands free. If you miss the call then pull over somewhere safe and call back or wait until you arrive at your distinction if your journey is short. Don't however stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway or in a dangerous place on the carriageway.

If you use a sat nav - which can be very helpful. Be familiar with it. Understand what the display is showing you so you don't have to think and work it out while driving. Get to know its traits. Google maps on a smart phone operates differently to Tom Tom units. (Other sat nav's are available)  Set up your music system before you start your journey. Weather it's radio, CD or in deed MP3 music from another device or memory card. Creating a play list in iTunes or music software at home and syncing this before your journey.

Get familiar with any infotainment systems built into new cars while parked or before your journey. Voice activation on some infotainment systems or smart devices often fails to understand your commands with background road noise around.  If the device is confusing - don't use it. Remember the tech is their you help you be better driver. If it doesn't contribute to this theory then don't use it. And if your system starts reading text messages back or Facebook status, please please switch this feature off. Is any change in your friends Facebook Status worth having an accident over.

On your next journey try this. Switch your phone off completely. Turn your radio / CD / infotainment system off and count how many things related to the road you've never notice before. I guarantee you'll lose count, but that's not the point. The point is you've noticed new things and situations without in car distractions - reducing cognitive distractions and thus become instantly much safer on the road.

And please, post your thoughts below after your journey and let others know how you've got on.

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