Researchers from the University of Houston (UH) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute have produced an extensive dataset examining how drivers react to different types of distractions, such as perspiration, as part of an effort to devise strategies to make driving safer.

In a study, published Aug. 15 in Scientific Data, researchers tracked drivers as they drove the same segment of highway four times in a driving simulator – with no distraction and with cognitive, emotional and physical distraction. They were monitored via standoff and wearable sensors, which recorded perspiration, heart rate, breathing rate, gaze and facial expressions to capture the drivers’ state as they were overloaded by multitasking.

“Eye tracking and breathing rate proved useful metrics for measuring the impact of texting while driving,” said Ioannis Pavlidis, Eckhard Pfeiffer Professor and director of the Computational Physiology Lab at UH. “But that wasn’t helpful in cases of emotional or cognitive distractions.”

The researchers found heart rate signals captured via wearable sensors and perinasal perspiration captured via miniature thermal imagers were able to track all forms of distraction.

Texting was found to lead to far more dangerous driving, while a “sixth sense” appeared to protect those suffering emotional upset or absent-mindedness. Texting interfered with that sixth sense, letting drivers drift out of their traffic lanes.