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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Driving - Not a Time to Multi-Task

Laws against texting while driving are becoming popular in several states as well as laws against using cell phones at all while driving.
We've all seen drivers on their cell phones sitting at green lights, weaving into other lanes, texting while driving with their knees, trying to turn with one hand, and worse.

We need to use our time efficiently, but let's draw the line at using cell phones while driving.
Have you ever wondered why you can have a conversation with someone in the car but lose your edge when you pick up your cell phone? Why is talking on the phone so distracting? According to a study comparing these two types of conversations by the American Psychological Association,

"The results indicate that passenger conversations differ from cell phone conversations because the surrounding traffic not only becomes a topic of the conversation, helping driver and passenger to share situation awareness, but the driving condition also has a direct influence on the complexity of the conversation...."

Other studies show that it's not only talking or texting on your cell phone that is the problem. It's any type of distraction, including eating, putting on make-up, reaching for something - anything that takes your eyes off the road, according the the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

So why is it so hard for us to multi-task?
According to National Public Radio,
"Neuroscience studies using brain scans have shown that the brain struggles with paying attention to sights and sounds simultaneously. When the brain starts working on a visual task, its auditory parts show decreased activity, and vice versa. In fact, driver inattention is involved in about 80 percent of crashes, according to a 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study found the most common distraction for drivers was use of cell phones — with the number of crashes attributable to dialing nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening."

Our brains are just not equipped to multi-task according to Carnegie Mellon neuroscientist Marcel Lust, as referenced in an article in Gizmos for Geeks. "More research into this contentious area has shown that our brains simply aren’t built for multitasking, yet alone performing other tasks while driving. Research done by neuroscientist Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues shows that using part of your brain for language processing reduces activity in the spatial regions used for driving. Since driving is the less-ingrained task, then that’s going to take even more of a hit. But the reduction in ability isn’t limited to when you talk on the phone or with someone else in the car, but other things like attending to the radio, eating or dealing with kids or pets."

To sum up: Our brains don't multi-task well, especially when driving. Taking our eyes off the road greatly increases our chances of crashing. And cell phones are the most common causes of distractions. Need I say more?

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More on efficient driving:
Using Your Drive Time Efficiently
Sleep is Non-negotiable!
10 Ways to Double Your Time