General Motors and its research partners are conducting a study to find out how non-driving activities affect driver behavior in an autonomous vehicle. GM said it wanted to study the demands on a driver’s visual attention in hands-on steering and automated steering (with full-speed range adaptive cruise control engaged).

The automaker conducted the studies in a driving simulator at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis and with VTTI on a GM test track in Michigan.

The study found that when engaging in non-driving activities, drivers tend to split their visual attention between the roadway and other tasks by glancing frequently, but briefly, off the road. The study also found that advanced driver monitoring and assistance features, for example a forward collision alert system, increases drivers’ focus on the road ahead by 126% when automated steering is operating (when full-speed range adaptive cruise control is engaged).

“Drivers are already engaging in risky behavior, and are likely to continue doing so given the prevalence of smartphones and other portable electronics, so why not make it safer for them and the people around them,” said Dr. Eddy Llaneras, principal investigator at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on the study. “Offering some form of vehicle automation with the proper safeguards might be better than what is happening on our roads today."