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TODAY   |  June 12, 2013

Researchers measure distracted drivers’ brain activity

In an effort to learn just how common distractions affect drivers, researchers at the University of Utah are measuring drivers’ brain activity while testing their abilities to react during simulated phone calls and text messages. NBC’s Tom Costello serves as a guinea pig for the study.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> very much. before you grab your car keys and head out the door this morning, there's new research into distracting driving that's taking the discussion in a new direction. for the first time the brain activity of the drivers is being measured as they encounter distractions. tom costello served as one of the testers for this. good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning. this involves the aaa, university of ut under the circumstances -- university of utah and this car with allinds gadts and they found hands free devices is a big source of distraction.

>> reporter: it looks painful but it's not. a little glue to hold the electrodes in place, behind my ears, on my face and in my hair. all to measure my level of distraction.

>> we're recording a brain wave from this signal in your brain that's going to get smaller the more distracted you become.

>> reporter: a simple drive around the track with a radio on but every time a green light flashes in my field of vision i have to put a button with my thumb as if something is demanding my attention, a traffic light , heavy traffic or pedestrian.

>> i saw a green light , press the button. red light i ignore it.

>> joel cooper is my instructor.

>> sometimes, they're more likely to miss the green light . the green light comes up, they fail to respond.

>> the radio isn't a huge distraction for most people, including me but when have to listen to and then dictate text messages .

>> hey, i haven't heard from you in awhile and i was just wondering how things were going for you.

>> i'm slower responding to the green light .

>> everything is going well, i'm driving right now, i'll call you later, send the message.

>> message sent.

>> my response time to the green light nearly 10% slower. meanwhile another study done by toyota and the university of michigan found that teenage drivers follow their parents behavior while driving. 54% of teens report driving while using a hand held cell phone while 61% of parents did the same thing. 30% of teens admit to reading a text once or more every time they drive while 13% of their parents do the same and teens read or send text messages 26 times more often than their parents think and distractions are linked to more and more accidents but back in the text car --

>> hey, are you coming to the club on thursday --

>> reporter: i was using hands free speech dictation technology.

>> that's supposed to be the answer to distracted driving.

>> even interacting with a hands free system still increases mental workload and still causes driver distraction.

>> reporter: now, to do a major full analysis of my brain waves and reaction times it would have taken weeks to crunch all the data but the most important part of the study shows that systems exploding inside cars as we want to be more connected, those infotainment systems are becoming more distracting.

>> do you use these systems in your car?

>> is tom going to go to the book club thursday? have to know the answer to that.