weekly blog--one for the ages
Last Friday I visited the AgeLab at MIT to participate in a driver simulation study. A researcher hooked me up to several EKG monitors and then placed me inside a simulator. The pseudo-car had a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and three large computer screens that served as my front and side windows. And then with little fanfare, I was off on a highway drive with instructions to stay in the left lane, keep the speed to no more than 65 mph, and to try not crashing into any of the cars ahead of me in the right and left lanes.
The test was divided into three parts and lasted one hour. I was tasked to perform two activities that induced stress while driving. The first was to recall a series of numbers that were being read aloud. The second was to look down at an electronic box sitting on my lap when the screen went blank, and click a button on the steering wheel to indicate the direction the light on the box wanted me to go (left or right).
Performing one task at a time didn’t prove very stressful and I managed to stay in control and not crash into anything. I couldn’t say the same when faced with doing both tasks when the sequence of activities was deliberately increased. The researcher who set up the test explained that they were measuring how people of various ages respond to distractions under pressure. He said that regardless of age the brain tends to focus on just one task when the pressure to do more than one thing at a time mounts.
My take from the simulation…driving and texting/talking on the cell phone at the same time is not a very good idea no matter how old you are. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says fatalities attributed to distracted driving, which includes texting, fiddling with GPS and even eating, increased by 8.8 percent in 2015. Auto insurance rates in Massachusetts this year are expected to increase between 3% and 6% because drivers are distracted by their smartphones and are crashing their cars more often.