WASHINGTON D.C: A team of researchers has produced an extensive data set examining how drivers react to different types of distractions, part of an effort to devise strategies for making driving safer.
The study from the University of Houston and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute was conducted with 68 volunteers, all of whom had a valid driver's license and normal or corrected-to-normal vision, on a driving simulator.
Drivers were tracked with both thermal and visual cameras, along with palm sensors, sensors to measure heart rate and breathing rate, and an eye tracking system.
Researcher Ioannis Pavlidis said that the study is the first to tackle three types of distracting elements - sensorimotor, such as texting; cognitive, such as absorbing thoughts; and emotional distractions.
Texting, the researchers found, led to far more dangerous driving, while a "sixth sense" appeared to protect those suffering emotional upset or absent-mindedness. Texting interfered with that sixth sense, letting drivers drift out of their traffic lanes.
Additional investigation showed that "eye tracking and breathing rate proved useful metrics for measuring the impact of texting while driving," Pavlidis said. "But that wasn't helpful in cases of emotional or cognitive distractions."
However, he said that the researchers found heart rate signals captured via wearable sensors and perinasal perspiration captured via miniature thermal imagers were able to track all forms of distraction.
That and other findings provide the groundwork for future safety systems, said researcher Robert Wunderlich. Given the widespread use of smart watches capable of measuring heart rate, he said this result opens the way for universal sensing of all forms of distraction at the consequential source, that is, the driver's sympathetic system.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Data.