While much has been made about the dangers of texting and driving, less attention has been focused on the age-old distractions of being absent minded or upset while driving. A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) focused on all three of these important factors. Led by Ioannis Pavlidis from UH and Robert Wunderlich of TTI, the research studied how drivers behave when they are absent minded, emotionally charged or engaged in texting. ... In all three interventions -- absent minded, emotional and texting -- the researchers found that the drivers' handling of the wheel became jittery with respect to normal driving. This jittery handling resulted in significant lane deviations and unsafe driving only in the case of texting distractions. In the case of absent-minded and emotionally charged distractions, jittery steering resulted in straighter trajectories with respect to a normal drive and safer driving. "The driver's mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course," Pavlidis said. "What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense. Self-driving cars may bypass this and other problems, but the moral of the story is that humans have their own auto systems that work wonders, until they break."
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