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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on February 28, 2017

The Neuropsychology of Media • II

Distracted Driving: The Automobile as Media Setting

2014 Mazda • Mazda 3 • Best Affordable Compact Car (USNWR)
MSRP of $18,445
Mazda 3 Dashboard & Steering WheelBluetooth® hands-free phone and audio capability
Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls
MAZDA CONNECT™ Infotainment system with:
-7-inch full color touch screen display
-Multi-function Commander control
-Infotainment system voice command
-Rearview Camera
-Mazda navigation system
-Bose® 9 speaker surround sound system with Centerpoint® 2 (surround sound) and AudioPilot® 2 (noise compensation)
-AM/FM/CD/MP3/HD Radio
-Pandora®, Stitcher™ and Aha™ internet radio integration
-SiriusXM Satellite Radio with 4-month trial subscription
-SMS text message auto deliver and voice reply
-E911 automatic emergency notification
Analog speedometer
Digital tachometer

2014 Subaru • Subaru Outback • Best Wagon (USNWR)
MSRP ca. $30,000
Subaru Dashboard & Drivers Seat- AM/FM/Satellite/CD/MP3/DVD
- Auxiliary input jack
- 6 speakers/440W
- Steering wheel audio control
- Bluetooth
- Mobile Internet
- Rear seat entertainment system: two 7" LCD monitors and two DVD players integrated into the replacement front seat headrests.
- Front seat LCD
The contemporary automobile (car, wagon, SUV) serves as a hybrid media form which provides
  • a means of transportation
  • an "infotainment" or "in car entertainment" media center
    • Infotainment = "information-based media content or programming that also includes entertainment content in an effort to enhance popularity with audiences and consumers" (Demers, 2005, p.14)
    • In car entertainment = "a collection of hardware devices installed into automobiles, or other forms of transportation, to provide audio and/or audio/visual entertainment, as well as automotive navigation systems (SatNav). This includes playing media such as CDs, DVDs, Freeview/TV, USB and/or other optional surround sound, or DSP systems. Also increasingly common in ICE installs are the incorporation of video game consoles into the vehicle." Wikipedia.
    • A relatively new phenomenon, i.e., advanced "infotainment" systems in cars introduced about 2010 (Vance & Richtel, 2010).

Elements of in car entertainment might include

  • Sound: AM/FM/satellite radio; CD & MP3 players; cassette player; telephone; BluTooth wireless or audio input jack connections for cell phones, iPads, etc.; text-to-audio voice-activated texting or messaging system
  • Vision: GPS* navigation; in-dash information center (speed, direction, gas usage...); DVD; game consoles;
  • WiFi connectivity for passenger Internet use
  • Driving controls: turn signals, wiper controls, cruise controls, light controls (lo-hi beam); OnStar emergency, security,  navigation, and other passenger safety systems

[GPS Satellites circling Earth]* GPS = Global Positioning System which is "a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location & time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites" {W}

  • Developed by the US Defense Dept. in the 1970s and made accessible to the general public by Pres. Bill Clinton in a 1996 executive order operative in 2000.
  • The system relies upon a minimum 24 satellites (there were 31 in orbit as of 11/30/2013)
  • The signals from the GPS are accurate to within 20 meters (66 ft) anywhere on earth.
Traffic Fatalities in the US
                        2000-2012 Statistics

Deaths rise 2014-2016

Preliminary data for 2016 (National Safety Council)
  • Deaths in 2016 (N = 40,200) up by 6.5% from 2015 (N = 37,757)
  • Fatalities per 100K in 2016 was 12.40 and the fatalities per 100 million vmt = 1.25
  • Earlier changes: 2013 deaths: 35,386; 2014 deaths: 35,398 deaths (no change from 2013); 2015 deaths 37,757 (6.7% increase from 2014);
Note: NSC numbers are higher than NTSA because NSC counts traffic/non-traffic deaths within a year of accident, but NTSA counts only traffic deaths within 30 days of accident

Distracted Driving: Measuring the Effects (Strayer et al., 2011, 2013; Wilson & Stimpson, 2010)

[Cognitive workload et al.]

Past research has shown
  • Drivers who are using a cell phone tend to experience "inattention blindness" where the conversation on the phone diverts the driver's attention from processing the information needed for safe driving (p. 7).
    • Similarly cell phone-using drivers show alterations in brain wave activity in the form of Event-Related Brain Potentials (ERPs). In this situation, drivers do not code the information before them in the driving scene as well as they do without conversation and reaction times are slowed.  
  • Drivers engaged in a second cognitive task exhibit a form of "tunnel vision" in which they keep their eyes looking ahead and do not glance at the sides of the road as frequently as non-distracted drivers.
Experimental Set-up

1. None: Simple driving, no other task
2. Radio: Driving while listening to a radio
3. BookOnTape: Driving while listening to a book on tape
4. Passenger: Driving while holding 10 min. conversation with passenger
5. Handheld: Driving while holding 10 min. conversation on a hand-held cell phone
6. HandsFree: Driving while holding 10 min. conversation with a hands-free cell phone
7. Speech-Text: Driving while interacting with a speech-to-text interfaced email system
8. OSPAN: Driving while performing auditory version of the OSPAN mental processing tasks (math & memorization)

Participants were fitted with a DRT (detection reaction time) headset in which they were presented a random series of either red or green signals off to the side of their forward vision. This approximates what drivers may experience when traffic lights are positioned at the side of a street. Subjects were also fitted with an EEG (electro-encephalogram) recording device to measure changes of attention when facing red-green light change. This measurement focused upon ERPs and, especially, what is called the P300 brain wave which marks when a subject's attention has changed.
DRT Device    Simulator
Experiment 1: Laboratory Control (Baseline)
  • In front of a computer without actually driving, but performing the 8 tasks
Experiment 2: Driving Simulator
  • In a realistic car simulator performing the 8 tasks
Experiment 3: Instrumented Vehicle (in Real Life)
  • Driving a 2.75 mile loop in a suburban section of Salt Lake City Utah while performing the 8 tasks. The driver was accompanied by both a researcher and an assistant who had a redundant set of brakes.
Some Results
P300 Latency
Simulator Results
Glances at Hazards
 Cognitive Distraction Scale

ABC Nightline: Caught On Tape: Teen Drivers Moments Before a Crash
(AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety YouTube: 6'45" Mar, 2015)

==> We will watch this video and then break into smaller groups to discuss the following questions?

  • What are the different sources of distraction you have noted in driving (beyond texting itself)
  • What have you seen happening, e.g., with your parents, your friends, others?
  • Is there anything that you think could convince people to drive in a safer way?


Demers, D. (2005). Dictionary of mass communication and media research: A guide for students, scholars and professionals. Spokane, WA: Marquette Books.

Dingus, T. A., Klauer, S. G., Neale, V. L., Petersen, A., Lee, S. E., Sudweeks, J., Knipling, R. R. (2006). The 100-car naturalistic driving study: phase II -- Results of the 100-car field experiment. Washington, DC: DOT HS 810 593.

Healey, J. R. (2014, Feb. 25). 'Consumer Reports:' Cars better, infotainment not. USA Today. Retrieved at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/02/25/consumer-reports-worse-infotaiment-reliability/5794281/

Strayer, D. L., Cooper, J. M., Turrill, J., Coleman, J., Medeiros-Ward, N., & Biondi, F. (2013, June). Measuring cognitive distraction in the automobile. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic safety. Retrieved from https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/MeasuringCognitiveDistractions.pdf 

Strayer, D. L, Watson, J. M., & Drews, F. A. (2011). Cognitive distraction while multitasking in the automobile. In B. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation, Vol. 54 (pp. 29-58). Burlington, VT: Academic Press.

Vance, A., & Richtel, M. (2010, Jan 6). Driven to distraction - Despite risks, carmakers integrate the web with the dash. New York Time. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/technology/07distracted.html

Wilson, F. A., & Stimpson, J. P. (2010). Trends in fatalities from distracted driving in the United States, 1999-2008. American Journal of Public Health, 100(11), 2213-2219. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.1871

This page was first posted on 2/27/14