Texting and driving is most dangerous distraction for motorists

Scientific study reveals human "autopilot" is shut down when reading or sending text messages at the wheel

Texting

An "autopilot" in the brain that prevents distracted drivers veering off course stops working when you're reading or sending text messages at the wheel, a new scientific study has found. The findings, published in the Scientific Reports journal, suggest texting is an especially hazardous activity for motorists.

In tests, 59 volunteers were asked to "drive" along a simulated road while scientists did their best to put them off. Three types of driver distraction were studied - mentally challenging questions, emotionally charged questions, and "texting trivialities".

• Car dashboard warning lights: do you know what they mean?

Each of them caused steering wheel handling to become "jittery" - but only the texting distractions led to major lane deviation and unsafe driving.

Scientists said when trying to handle text messages, drivers received no help from an unconscious "error correction" system in the brain that in other situations intervened to get them out of trouble. 

"Sixth sense" for danger disabled when texting

Lead researcher Dr Ioannis Pavlidis, from the University of Houston in Texas, US, said: "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.

"What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense. Self-driving cars may bypass this and other problems, but the moral of the story is that humans have their own auto-systems that work wonders, until they break."

• Nissan acquires 34 per cent stake in Mitsubishi Motors

According to the study, the "autopilot" is situated in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) region of the brain. Stress from external distractions fed "fight or flight" energy into the drivers' arms, resulting in the jittery wheel handling.

Traffic jam

But then the ACC stepped in, counterbalancing any strong jitter to the left with an instant matching jitter to the right, and vice-versa. The net effect was that any veering to the left or right was avoided, and the vehicle remained accurately on course.

Reading or sending texts stopped this system working, and jittery handling of the steering wheel continued leading to drivers veering off course.

• The craziest car options ever

Dr Pavlidis added: "Following up on the results of our science study, we are currently looking into the development of a car system to monitor outward driving behaviours, such as steering jitter or lane deviation, as well as the internal state of the driver that causes them.

"This system, which I call 'stressalyser", a play on the word breathalyser, may serve not only as a 'black box' in car accidents, but also as a driver alert and prevention mechanism, since it will continuously sense a driver drifting to distracted mode."

What do you think the penalty for sending texts at the wheel should be? Let us know in the comments section below...

Recommended

Killer drivers will face life sentences from 2021
Speed camera accident
Consumer news

Killer drivers will face life sentences from 2021

Government promises to introduce legislation to reform sentencing for drivers who cause death or serious injury next year
14 Sep 2020
Over half of drivers break 30mph limits
Increased speed limits helps to cut accidents
Consumer news

Over half of drivers break 30mph limits

Official figures show drivers are most likely to break 30mph limits, closely followed by 70mph motorway limits
9 Sep 2020
Driving licence validity extended for 11 months
News

Driving licence validity extended for 11 months

Move follows seven-month extension announced in June; photocard licences expiring between 1 February and 31 December 2020 get automatic 11-month exten…
1 Sep 2020
Private parking firms face Government crackdown
UK’s parking ticket lottery
Consumer news

Private parking firms face Government crackdown

New proposals will introduce a cap on fines, a 10-minute grace period, major and minor offences, plus increased maximum fines
1 Sep 2020

Most Popular

How green are electric cars? Polestar data shows ICE trailing EV
News

How green are electric cars? Polestar data shows ICE trailing EV

Electric car maker reveals whole-life CO2 emissions of the Polestar 2 are better than a petrol XC40 - but EV is only 14% cleaner with global energy mi…
17 Sep 2020
New Nissan 400Z previewed with Z Proto concept
Nissan 370Z

New Nissan 400Z previewed with Z Proto concept

The Z Proto concept hints at the next Z car, which is likely to be named the Nissan 400Z, but the production model won’t be coming to Europe
16 Sep 2020
New BMW 128ti prototype review
BMW 1 Series

New BMW 128ti prototype review

The new BMW 128ti has its sight set on the Volkswagen Golf GTI
15 Sep 2020