What Is Cognitive Distraction While Driving?

A cognitive distraction can be just as dangerous as a manual or visual one.

Posted: 01/20/2020

Most drivers understand the risks of manual distractions, such as picking up a cellphone or trying to eat fast food behind the wheel. They also recognize the dangers of visual distractions, such as rubbernecking a car accident or looking at the floorboards for a dropped item. One major type of distraction most drivers do not think about, however, is cognitive. A cognitive distraction can be just as dangerous as a manual or visual one. It is your responsibility as a driver to resist cognitive distractions, for your safety and the safety of others.

The Dangers of Cognitive Distractions

A cognitive distraction is anything that takes your mind off of the driving task. Any thought, daydream or recollection that distracts you mentally from driving is a cognitive distraction. You cannot fully focus on the road when a cognitive distraction is absorbing your thoughts. The effects of a cognitive distraction are comparable to drowsy or even drunk driving.

  • Reduced reaction times. Thinking about something else while driving can reduce your reaction times to changing roadway situations, such as a pedestrian crossing in front of your vehicle. The thought or feeling that is distracting you could interfere with your mental connections enough to cause a delay in how quickly you swerve or brake - potentially leading to an accident.
  • Poor judgment. If something other than the task at hand is absorbing your thoughts, you may not be able to fully dedicate your brain to driving. This could lead to making poor decisions or judgment calls behind the wheel, such as deciding to take an exit you almost missed at the last second by cutting other people off. Cognitive distractions that involve strong feelings, such as anger, are likely to lead to poor decision-making while driving.
  • Loss of activity in important parts of the brain. Cognitive distractions can reduce brain activity in parts of the brain you need to safely operate a motor vehicle. Thinking about something else could take away from visual information processing and spatial awareness, for example. This could lead to misinterpreting a situation, processing a hazard more slowly or making absentminded mistakes such as running a red light.

While other types of distractions take your eyes from the road or hands from the wheel, cognitive distractions take your brain off of what you are doing. This can be extremely dangerous while driving, as even a second of delayed reaction time could be enough to cause a collision. The task of driving deserves 100% of your attention, 100% of the time.

Examples of Cognitive Distractions

Many different cognitive distractions can be powerful enough to cause or contribute to a car accident. Any thought, emotion, feeling, conversation, entertainment or mental diversion that detracts your focus from the road could count as a cognitive distraction.

  • Chatting with passengers
  • Talking on the phone
  • Reading texts, books or maps
  • Daydreaming
  • Thinking about work or school
  • Thinking about an argument you just had
  • Strong emotions such as extreme happiness or sadness
  • Anger, frustration or road rage

Every driver must resist cognitive distractions while driving. Drivers must be proactive about avoiding distracted driving in all its forms. As a driver, avoid multitasking behind the wheel. Focus all your visual, manual and cognitive attention on the driving task when you drive.

What to Do After a Distracted Driving Accident

If you get into a car accident with someone you believe was guilty of distracted driving, contact a personal injury attorney in Montana for assistance. Proving a cognitive distraction can be difficult, especially if the other driver will not admit fault. Unlike other forms of distracted driving, such as texting and driving, you may not have hard evidence of a cognitive distraction. Instead, your lawyer may need to make this argument based on circumstantial evidence, such as a lack of braking before impact. Not hitting the brakes could imply that something was distracting the other driver. Contact a distracted driving accident lawyer for help with your claim.