Research Summary Pt. 2 Designing for Distraction


NHTSA offers three main methods of distraction that occur with drivers. 


Visual Distraction

Visual distraction occurs when an object or a signal enters the drivers view and captures their attention. This might occur outside the vehicle, such as another vechicle, or inside the car, such as a flashing light on the dashboard or an animation in an infotainment system. Visual distraction is interesting as it is also the precursor to the next main type, cognitive distraction.

Cognitive Distraction

Cognitive Distraction is the way in which our ability to make decicisons or calculations is impaired by another mental process. For example having a deep conversation with a passenger might affect the drivers ability to concentrate on the speed limit, or trying to remember a phone number might make it difficult to focus on the traffic situation.

Manual Distraction

Manual Distraction is defined as any time the drivers ability to physically operate the vehicle is somehow affected. This might be taking a hand off the wheel to adjust a control, or stretching a sore foot on a long drive. 


Designing for distracted drivers comes with a number of challenges. Distraction occurs on a large spectrum, and is extremely individual. Drivers skill level, age and confidence all play a part in how a driver might be distracted from the driving task. However it also exists within a spectrum, which makes it very hard to test. Unlike blood alcohol it is very hard to quantify, and a driver is usually unable to make an accurate self assessment. 


Visual attention is related to the stimuli a driver diverts their attention to, either voluntarily or subconsciously. 

“When information is relevant to the driver, endogenous control purposely directs attention to particular features in the driving environment. 
On the other hand, exogenous cues, such as abrupt movements,draw attention to a particular object or location without drivers’ intention”


Multiple resource theory is the concept that we have limited supplies of our various cognitive resources, and when they are under stress, they can block the ability of other information to be stored.

Studies have shown that a secondary visual task like looking at a song title can block primary information from being stored in our short term memory.