Researchers: The key to distracted driving is in where you look

It’s easy to avoid distracted driving: just keep your eyes on the road and traffic, and watch where you’re going. While some readers might dismiss that observation as painfully obvious, MIT researchers say that no matter how evident it might be, it is true.

If more people would focus on the road rather than their latest text message, we would see fewer motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities.

As evidence mounts that distracted driving is worse in not only the Edwardsville area, but across the nation, it becomes increasingly important for us to understand the nature of the beast. MIT researchers designed a test that required participants to view videos that showed a driver’s view of the road. Participants were then asked to focus on different parts of the road, looking 30 degrees to the left, then 30 degrees to the right, then 20 degrees below center, and so on.

They were to then tell the researchers when the brake lights on the vehicle ahead were illuminated.

The next test was more complicated, with participants told to keep their eyes on a green symbol superimposed on the screen while the driving video played, and in other tests were told to indicate when parts of the symbol turned white, and so on.

The goal was to see how and when participants’ performance eroded as their cognitive workloads increased and how the various loads affected reaction times.

What the study found was that humans are slow to detect things in our peripheral vision. The best performances were when participants were instructed to look at the center of the screen and the worst came when they were told to look 20 percent below the center. That off-center perspective was worse on reaction times than when the participants were given complex instructions about when to indicate that they had seen symbol changes.

The bottom line, researchers say, is that where we look is a more crucial component of distracted driving than cognitive workloads. In plainer terms, if you’re looking at your phone instead of the road, it has a greater negative impact on your driving than if you are absorbed in your thoughts as you peer ahead at the traffic and streets.

Of course, research becomes much less interesting to those who have been hurt in a car accident caused by a distracted driver. For them, it is much more important to work with an attorney who will help them obtain full compensation for all damages.