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There was a lot we believed in as a kid. We believed Santa left us presents, the Easter Bunny left us chocolate and the Tooth Fairy left us money under our pillow when we lost a tooth. As we got older we relied upon experienced adults to let us know these myths were not true. As the saying goes, the more we change the more we stay the same. It’s now time for the more experienced adults to let some of the other adults know about another myth; the belief is that multitasking while driving can be done safely.
In recent years, distracted driving has overcome impaired driving as a major cause of road fatalities and injuries. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Similar to using alcohol or drugs, using a cell phone can become quite addictive and has become the leading distraction among drivers. Be honest with yourself, how often have you looked at your cell phone for messages when you know you shouldn’t? At work? At school? In church or while driving? It basically comes from FOMO, which stands for the “Fear Of Missing Out”. Although there seems to be a number of pleas to the general public asking people to stop using their phones while driving, they don’t seem to be getting the message. So let’s try sending a different message.
Many people have realized that it’s difficult to do two or more thought-provoking tasks reasonably well at the exact same time. What appears to be multi-tasking is really task-switching. This is where you quickly move from one task to another very quickly, thinking you’re doing both at the same time. The reality is that your brain can only handle one thought-provoking thing at a time. Now it’s time for you to realize the same thing.
Having 2 hands on the steering wheel is always a good thing. However, it’s not just the hands—or the feet for that matter—that control the vehicle. Your mind has to constantly stay focused on the driving task. Taking a “break” to glance at a non-driving situation can lead to poor or late driving choices, such as going through a red light, a stop sign, perhaps drifting out of your lane or worse, hitting another vehicle or person. This is because your mind has been been removed temporarily from the driving task.
Doing multiple tasks at the same time is possible, provided all but one of the other tasks are habits where the driver doesn’t have to concentrate on doing them. The driver may know how to brake, accelerate and steer quite well as they’ve made them into habits. However once the driver gets involved with a distraction, such as having a major discussion with someone, whether that someone is physically inside the vehicle or on the phone (even in hands-free Bluetooth mode), their concentration is now on the discussion, not their driving. If a pedestrian or cyclist walks into their path, the driver may not respond quickly enough. Their mind isn’t thinking about it, therefore they won’t know when to employ those critical driving skills and their response will be delayed.
It takes time to make a proper driving choice. Keeping your mind focused on the driving task is more important than ever. For example, if you notice a vehicle ahead of you suddenly stopping, there is often more of a delay in your response than many people may realize. To break it down, here’s what you need to know.
In order to properly respond to driving hazards, you need to know where to look while driving. Your brain is the first body part that’s used to keeping you and your vehicle safe. When the driver ahead of you begins to brake, your brain tells your eyes where to look and when your eyes see the brake lights, your eyes then tell your brain that you need to respond quickly. Your brain then tells your foot to come off the gas pedal and hit the brakes—hard. Your brain then receives a message from your eyes to know if you have enough time to stop. If not, your brain tells your hands to steer out of the way. All of this takes time.
I know this sounds like a lot, but it only takes a couple of seconds for a proper response to happen. What if, in those couple of seconds, you were glancing down at your phone, staring at the touchscreen on your dash, or looking in the bag of food sitting on the passenger’s seat? There wouldn’t be enough time to properly respond, let alone really notice what was happening ahead of you. You drive with your brain and eyes before any other part of your body. Now that we know what the problem really is, let’s come up with solutions.
New vehicle technologies can be very distracting to drivers. With so many options on a touchscreen, they easily can take away the attention of a driver. One possible solution is to pre-program your music prior to driving away. If you have a passenger, let this person control the options, music or navigation. Having a GPS device is a great tool to help you reach your destination, but ensure you’re using one with voice activation. Using your listening skills to allow your eyes and mind to focus on driving is a better choice. It takes less time to follow spoken directions compared to visual or written ones.
Speaking of passengers, they can create huge distractions while you’re driving. Before driving, establish ground rules that they must all follow. Screaming or suddenly moving around can create distractions for the driver. Let them know if they can’t follow the rules they can’t ride in your vehicle. If they can respect the rules, it shows they can respect you, the driver.
So if you think the phone is the only true distraction while driving, think again. Driving needs to be your only function when you sit behind the wheel.
About the Author
Scott Marshall has spent over 30 years promoting road safety. He has been a road safety journalist since 2005. Scott was also an on-air judge on the Discovery Network’s Canada’s Worst Driver during its first three seasons. Scott welcomes any questions or comments you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.