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UH Moment

UH Moment: Distracted Driving

“It’s a proven fact you can’t text and drive!”


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A woman participating in a simulated driving experience makes that pronouncement as she veers out of her simulating driving lane. She's one of 59 people who participated in a UH and Texas A&M Transportation Institute study, not merely about texting and driving, but about how drivers behave when they experience various forms of distraction.


"This is a very physical interaction we have right now with cars," said UH computer science professor Ioannis Pavlidis. "We use our hands. It requires a lot of real-time processing on our part and a lot of instant reactions because speed is involved."

Pavlidis, who led researchers in studying the way the brain responds to distractions, or sensory stressors, like texting and driving, absent minding driving or emotional driving, says the overall problem of distracting stressors is understudied.


This study examined the perspiration signals of drivers and steering compensations of drivers as they maneuvered while being distracted. Researchers found all the stressors in the study resulted in jittery driving, and that we're on a kind of autopilot that compensates for drifting out of a driving line (with the exception of texting and driving).

But this study is about more than the dangers of texting and driving. It's about envisioning technology that collaborates with humans as they drive, sensing when he or she is distracted.


"We're working to create a system in the car that senses at every point in time what is going on inside the driver in combination with her/his performance," Pavlidis said. "If we had a way for the car to sense what is going on inside the human being, if the human being was notified—you are drifting or you are daydreaming —this notification might work wonders."

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