Text while driving? Your sixth sense can’t keep you safe

By: | Published: May 15, 2016 1:34 PM

A sixth sense can keep a driver safe even when he or she is absent-minded or emotionally-charged but not when they text while on the wheels, a team of US researchers has found.

The drivers' handling of the wheel became jittery with respect to normal driving but texting while driving is too dangerous. (Reuters)The drivers’ handling of the wheel became jittery with respect to normal driving but
texting while driving is too dangerous. (Reuters)

A sixth sense can keep a driver safe even when he or she is absent-minded or emotionally-charged but not when they text while on the wheels, a team of US researchers has found.

The researchers from University of Houston (UH) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) said that in all three interventions, the drivers’ handling of the wheel became jittery with respect to normal driving but
texting while driving is too dangerous.

While this jittery handling resulted in significant lane deviations and unsafe driving in the case of texting distractions, in the case of absent-minded and emotionally charged distractions, jittery steering resulted in straighter trajectories with respect to a normal drive and safer driving.

“A likely explanation for this paradox is the function performed by a part of the brain called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) — known to automatically intervene as an error corrector when there is conflict,” said Ioannis Pavlidis from University of Houston.

“In this case, the conflict comes from the cognitive, emotional and sensorimotor, or texting, stressors. This raises the levels of physiological stress, funneling ‘fight or flight’ energy to the driver’s arms, resulting in jittery handling of the steering wheel,” Pavlidis added in a university statement.

According to him, brain’s ACC automatically counterbalances any strong jitter to the left with an instant equally strong jitter to the right and vice versa.

For ACC to perform this corrective function, it needs support from the driver’s eye-hand coordination loop.

“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,” Pavlidis noted.

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,” the authors noted.

The work was funded, in part, by the Toyota Class Action Settlement Safety Research and Education Programme.

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