Do you talk on your phone while driving? Safety experts agree that cell phone use is a dangerous distraction. Distractions now join alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury traffic crashes.
By multitasking, you may think that you’re making efficient use of your time behind the wheel. In reality, you are actually putting yourself, your passengers and others at risk.
When behind the wheel, we depend heavily on our vision. However, when we really think about it, eyes do not actually see. Your eyes send a message to the brain which computes what the eye is seeing.
Studies by well-known research universities reveal that drivers talking on cell phones miss up to 50 percent of what they should be seeing in their driving environments. Why? Because having a cell phone conversation while driving overloads the brain.When the brain is overloaded, it fails to compute or process incoming information.
In other words, even though you are actually looking at the roadway through your windshield, that cell phone conversation causes a phenomenon known as inattention blindness.
Our brains are not capable of multitasking. The brain cannot perform two thinking tasks at the same time; instead, the brain quickly switches back and forth between those tasks.
When a person’s brain is overloaded, it filters out the information it receives for processing. Research shows that when a driver is engaged in a cell phone conversation, they experience brain drain. This causes the brain to shut down many of its key functions, which are necessary for the driver to understand and react to changes in the roadway. We can become blind to what’s right in front of us.
Because their visual field narrows, drivers talking on a phone are less likely to see high and low pertinent objects, missing visual cues critical to safety and navigation. They tend to miss exits, go through red lights and stop signs, and miss important navigational signage.
More than 30 studies have shown hands-free devices are no safer than handheld, because the brain remains cognitively distracted by the conversation. Additionally, recent studies show using voice to text is more distracting than manually typing texts.
Next time you’re behind the wheel and reach for your cell phone, keep in mind that whether hands-free or hand-held, your chances of being involved in a crash significantly increase. Any secondary, non-essential activities you perform while driving puts you and the people you share the road with in harm’s way.
Bottom line: When you drive, just drive.
Altru’s Trauma Services Injury Prevention Program strives to enhance quality of life by reducing injuries through data driven community based interventions and policies.
Bill Vasicek is the community safety coordinator at Altru. In addition to facilitating a variety of injury prevention programs, Bill teaches defensive driving classes throughout the Grand Forks region.