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167126-1 Report Abstract

Effects of In-Vehicle Distractor Complexity on Driving and Emergency Response Performance

Michael Manser and Dana M. Even, Texas A&M University, June 2002, 149 pp. (167126-1)

Imagine yourself driving along a dark foggy road, you are lost, are becoming worried, and refuse to pull over for any period of time in an unfamiliar area. To belay fears you switch on the in-vehicle map. This should help you to determine where you are and how to return to familiar territory. When you are scrolling through menu options your cell phone rings and you answer. At the same time your child in the back seat starts to cry and a buzzer in the vehicle is warning of a potential engine failure. All of a sudden, in the fog you see a vehicle approaching you…in your lane! While this example is exaggerated, it is a situation where a driver is presented with a variety of distracters that singularly or in concert may detract from the driving task and detract from a driver’s ability to react to an emergency event. Previous research has shown that singular distracters, such as cell phones, can significantly detract from the driver’s ability to perform the driving task. However, despite the marked influence on the driving task, little research has evaluated the relative influence of differing levels of distracter complexity influence driver behavior. The purpose of the two experiments presented here was to perform preliminary tests to determine if varying levels of distracter complexity differentially influence driver behavior. A second purpose was to determine the influence of varying levels of distracter complexity on drivers’ ability to react to an emergency event. Results of the studies indicate that driver performance was degraded with the introduction of a distracter and when the distracter is presented through a visual information delivery mode driver performance was degraded differentially with differing levels of distracter complexity. Results also indicate that when drivers are presented with an emergency response scenario their primary reaction is to brake. However, the number of participants who braked increased with the inclusion of a distracter and was differentially influenced by the level of complexity of the distracter. These results lend support to the contention that driver performance is negatively influenced by the inclusion of and increasing levels of complexity of a distraction and that this may be due to increasing amount of attentional resources that are captured with the introduction of a distracter.

Keywords: Driving, Distraction, Distractors, Emergency Response, Emergency Maneuver

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