There are all sorts of ways a person can be distracted at the wheel—kids screeching, sleep deprivation, arguing—and they predate cell phones. But research in the journal Scientific Reports pits two types of distraction (being "emotional" or "absent-minded") against texting and finds the latter far worse. It turns out most people have a sort of sixth sense that allows them to maintain a straight line in spite of many distractions. But texting "wreaks havoc" on that sixth sense, University of Houston researcher Ioannis Pavlidis says in a Eureka Alert news release. The study was small with only 59 participants, but the results are striking.
The part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which the researchers write is "known to automatically intervene as an error corrector," requires hand-eye coordination, reports Live Science. Texting disrupts this built-in auto correct so that we no longer subconsciously correct our mistakes, which the researchers observed watching drivers navigate the same segment of highway four times (non-distracted driving was the control). The findings could help make cars safer. "We are currently looking into the development of a car system to monitor outward driving behaviors, such as steering jitter or lane deviation, as well as the internal state of the driver that causes them," Pavlidis says. A "stressalyzer" could serve as a "black box" in car accidents as well as warn drivers if they are distracted. (Here's how people who text drivers could also be held liable.)