Teens get a bad reputation for being careless drivers, and a recent study shows those suffering from ADHD are even more likely to be involved in dangerous auto accidents. And, as if operating a vehicle in dense traffic weren’t enough of a challenge for drivers who have a hard time focusing, texting behind the wheel — not surprisingly — compounds the problem.
However, eye tracking technology is providing a glimmer of hope to those of us who want to make the roads a safer place for ourselves and our families. But, the goal of keeping young drivers focused on the very important task at hand is often met with considerable obstacles.
According to Dr. Andrew Adesman, a pediatric psychologist who studies the problem of texting and driving in teens, texting creates a whole new level of distraction for young drivers just getting acquainted with the rules of the road. And the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, recently revealed this unsettling statistic: Roughly half of teens admit to texting while driving.
If these teens have ADHD, focusing on driving safely, while trying to carry on a conversation using their thumbs, proves to be nearly impossible.
So, how often does this life-threatening, perfect storm of teen-texting drivers and ADHD sufferers occur? According to U.S. health officials, about 6.4 million American kids under age 18 have received an ADHD diagnosis. The new study, which was published on Aug. 12, worked with 61 drivers, aged 16 and 17 years old; half of the participants had ADHD.
Using a driving simulator, researchers studied the teens’ driving skills both with and without the distractions of talking and texting on a cell phone. Even without these technical distractions, those teens with ADHD had significantly more trouble remaining in their lanes and driving at a constant speed; in fact, they drifted out of their lanes 1.8 percent of the time. But when texting was thrown into the mix, the drivers strayed out of their lanes about 3.3 percent of the time.
Of course, all kids — and adults — need to stop the dangerous habit of texting behind the wheel. But, studies like this show just how dangerous these habits are, while making the point that, just because one person feels confident in their ability to juggle texting and driving, doesn’t mean that all drivers perform equally under such circumstances.
So, what can be done about this harrowing situation? Of course, parental involvement and PSAs from places like the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are a start. In the meantime, however, we need a solution that will save lives today.
Cars equipped with eye tracking systems may hold the answer. When a young driver begins to look away from the road for longer glances than the average, more experienced driver, eye tracking technology registers such eye patterns and alerts the driver. The errant behavior triggers an alarm, or even seat vibrations, to jolt drivers’ attention back to the road.
For example, if a teen looks away from the road for more than two seconds, he would be corrected each time this occurred. Hopefully, after a few instances, the teen would begin to self-correct, and keep his attention where it should be.
For those of us working in the eye tracking technology industry, it is always fulfilling to know how our technologies are improving and protecting lives.