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What effect does your state of mind have on driving?

We've all heard that texting and driving don't mix. It's one of the most common forms of distracted driving today, as well as one of the most dangerous. But even the most responsible drivers can become distracted -- without a phone, sandwich or noisy passenger in the car. If you've ever made a driving mistake because you were consumed by strong emotions or simply daydreaming, you may be able to relate.

A new study recently published in Scientific Reports reveals just what happens when drivers are distracted by absent mindedness, heightened emotions or texting. Researchers from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the University of Houston studied 59 people by asking them to drive the exact same stretch of road four different times under four different conditions: 1) normal, focused driving; 2) driving while texting; 3) driving while being asked "cognitively challenging" questions; and 4) driving while answering emotionally charged questions.

Researchers found that the drivers showed "jittery" behavior in all of the trips except for the normal, controlled drive. The jitteriness was manifested in how the drivers handled the steering wheel. However, the researchers only observed swerving, lane deviations and unsafe driving behavior on the trips that involved texting. The jittery behavior manifested during the emotionally and cognitively challenging trips actually led to straighter driving, and the reason why might surprise you.

Those leading the study posit that the straighter trajectories shown in the stressful but nontexting trips may be due to the brain's anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC. The ACC can be thought of as a type of auto correct that helps cancel out the jittery movements. For example, if the stressful driving situation makes the person result in a "jitter" to the left, the ACC makes the person have an equally strong jitter to the right, balancing the movements and leading to straighter driving.

However, this auto correct system only works as long as it continues to receive information from the driver's hand-eye coordination loop. If the driver looks down, such as when texting, the loop breaks and the check/balance system fails, resulting in swerves and lane deviations.

While the study's findings will likely spur more research in this area and help developers create better systems for self-driving cars, they also shine a light on how many factors may go into an accident. A car accident can happen for many reasons, and you have some legal options if you have been injured in an accident that was someone else's fault. However, it's not always easy to know what caused the accident or whether the person did something wrong that contributed to the incident. In these cases, talking with a personal injury attorney can help you better understand your situation and whether you have any legal options for recourse.

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