We all know distracted driving claims lives and leaves people injured. It has not stopped distracted drivers continuing to check their phones at the wheel, endangering others.

Now new research from the University of Houston and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute has looked more carefully at how drivers react to different types of distractions.

It’s part of an initiative intended to curb distracted driving and to make the roads safer places.

In a paper published on Aug. 15 in the journal Scientific Data, the researchers described how they collected the extensive information.

The study enlisted the help of 68 volunteers. They all possessed a valid driver’s license and had normal vision. Drivers were tracked on a simulator with thermal and visual cameras. The study included sensors to measure heart rate, breathing rate, and an eye tracking system.

distracted driving research

Distracted driving research is carried out

Volunteers drove down the same highway four times in a high tech driving simulator — with no distraction and with cognitive, emotional and physical distractions.

It was the first study of its kind to look at three elements of distraction – sensorimotor, such as texting and cell use; cognitive including absorbing thoughts; and emotional distractions.

The researchers found texting resulted in more dangerous driving. However, a “sixth sense” appeared to protect drivers suffering emotional upset or absent-mindedness.

Texting interfered with that protective sixth sense, causing drivers to drift out of their traffic lanes. The researchers reported this result in the journal Scientific Reports in 2016.

Ioannis Pavlidis, director of the Computational Physiology Lab at UH, and Eckhard Pfeiffer Professor said measurements like eye tracking and breathing rates proved to be useful metrics for measuring what impact texting has on driving.

However, these measurements weren’t useful in cases of cognitive or emotional distractions.

Heart rate signals and perspiration measurements were better for tracking all forms of distraction. The researchers were able to measure these signals by fitting miniature thermal imagers on the subjects.

Robert Wunderlich, director of the Center for Transportation Safety at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said the widespread wearing of smart watches opens a route to the universal sensing of all forms of distraction.

An article in Science Daily noted the study paves the way for intervention. Smart technology could warn drivers or others when they are distracted.

Distracted driving is one of the most serious menaces facing modern driving. While deaths from drunk driving have fallen over the last decade or two, the number of distracted deaths continues to rise.

Figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration state 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were hurt in auto crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law banning texting while driving earlier this summer. Just three U.S. states have not banned distracted driving. Georgia has had a texting and driving ban for a number of years.

In a recent blog, we noted that more distracted driving occurs in the southern United States.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver in Georgia, please call our personal injury lawyers at (404) 913-1529.