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The Human Brain and Distracted Driving

Jonathan Hernandez8 months ago

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month in the United States, and, as part of our month-long series on the dangers of distracted driving, every day we will be exploring different areas within the topic of driving while distracted.

Important Information about Cell Phone Use while Driving

According to the National Safety Council, talking on the cell phone while operating a motor vehicle is one of the most dangerous and distracting things a person can do. Motor vehicle accident fatalities are the number one cause of wrongful deaths for people ages 3-34 in the United States. The National Safety Council estimates that nearly 25 percent of all motor vehicle accidents that happened in 2008 were the result of someone being distracted while talking on the cell phone.

As a result of the motor vehicle accidents that happened as a result of using the cell phone while driving, there were nearly 1.4 million crashes and about 645,000 injuries 2008.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given point in time, nearly 11 percent of driver are talking on the phone or using their phone.

The Myth of Multitasking

In today’s society, the ability to multitask is a valued trait to have, especially in the workplace. Some people are under the impression that they are able to talk on the phone and drive because they have the ability to multitask. However, multitasking is a myth.

The human brain does not have the ability to do two things at the same time, but the brain can handle multiple tasks sequentially – this means that your brain is not doing two things at the same time, but it is quickly switching back and forth between one task and another. The brain’s ability to quickly switch back and forth between tasks just means that the brain is really only performing one task at a time.

Switching back and forth between multiple tasks can lead people to experience “inattention blindness,” which causes peoples’ brains to shift focus – this means that while drivers may “look” at a red light, they may not “see” the red light. Not only does attempting to do multiple tasks at the same time cause people to experience inattention blindness, it may also cause them to have much slower reaction times.

Specific Risks that Come with Using a Cell Phone while Driving

Specific risks of driving while using the cell phone include:

Inattention blindness – the driver not being able to process all of the information happening on the roadway environment that is necessary to safely and adequately monitor their surroundings.
Slower response and reaction times – due to focus and attention switching back and forth between multiple tasks, a driver’s reaction and response time is much slower than if they were fully focused on driving instead of having their attention divided.

Problems staying in the lane – due to being distracted and having their attention divided into multiple tasks, a driver may experience difficulty staying in the lane. Drifting over the median at the wrong time can result in a head-on collision.

Upcoming Distracted Driving Entries

Tomorrow, the discussion will continue on how drivers can reduce their own risk of driving while distracted. Be sure to check back in every day to learn more about the dangers of distractions and what we can do to prevent more accidents from happening. 

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