E-readers really changed the game for reading on the go. As technology expanded, book lovers can now access digital copies of their favorite novels from almost any device.
Even with e-readers, reading remained one of the things you could not do while driving.
While audiobooks are not new, they only became popular in the late 90s to early 2000 with the introduction of audiobook streaming services like Audible.com. Today many book lovers get their books from such services and listen to the text every opportunity they have, including when driving.
While listening to an audiobook is a significantly safe activity, it can become a distraction when driving. According to the NHTSA, a distraction is anything that gets your hands, eyes, or mind from the main activity, which should be controlling the vehicle. Data from the NHTSA indicate that 3,142 people died on American roads in 2020 due to distracted driving making distractions a leading cause of accidents in America.
Listening to an audiobook falls under the cognitive class of distractions. Cognitive distractions are a distraction that gets your mind off the road. Audiobooks can be pretty captivating, meaning drivers could lose their minds in the mental pictures that come with reading a captivating story.
“Under such circumstances, the driver’s eyes may be on the road, their hands on the wheel but cognitively in another world,” says personal injury lawyer Larry Eisenberg. When the mind is off the road, the driver may not respond to situations in time to avoid an accident which significantly increases the chances of an accident.
Different types of content for audiobooks produce different outcomes in terms of distraction. In a study about the effect of audiobooks on driving, researchers found that drivers listening to boring books responded faster to situations on the road than drivers listening to interesting audio books or a complex audio course.
Some subjects did not show any changes in their reaction, indicating that different people will be affected by cognitive distractions differently. Understanding the type of person you are is important if you have to drive while listening to audiobooks. Listening to audiobooks on the road may not be your best option if you love immersing yourself in a story. You will be better off listening to soft music, or nothing, if music affects your cognition.
Other Cognitive Distractions
If listening to an audiobook doesn’t have much effect on you, listening to one is no harm. But even then, you may need to ensure you do not succumb to scrolling your devices for specific chapters or sections you want to listen to while driving. Instead, pull over to the side of the road and only proceed when you are all set.
Audiobooks or listening to the radio are just some cognitive distractions. Getting lost in conversations with other vehicle occupants is also a cognitive distraction. At other times the distraction can result from getting lost in thought that has nothing to do with the road.
It is only possible to eliminate some cognitive distractions since unpredicted things happen on the road. But if it is something you can do, like avoiding too much talk, or listening to a book or music, avoiding them can help your chances of a distraction.