Gone are the days when ordinary car trips for work, school, errands, shopping, or vacations were opportunities to mono-focus. That is, to concentrate simply on driving and arrive at your destination safely and in a timely manner without getting into a car accident.
With the advent of car phones, then cell phones, and then smart phones, the temptation to be more productive through multitasking while driving has given rise to enormous potential for real danger. So much so that, in 2010, the US Congress designated April as Driver Distraction Awareness month. Also, 48 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted texting bans for all drivers. Handheld cell phone use is illegal for all drivers in 21 states and DC.
Besides talking, texting, or emailing on the phone, you might ask how many other types of distracted driving could there be? Here’s a sample list:
- Using GPS or reading a map
- Talking to passengers
- Dealing with pets or children
- Adjusting audio or climate controls in the vehicle
- Eating and drinking
- Applying makeup/grooming
- Emotional distraction
Types of Driver Distraction Behind the Wheel
More than 3,100 people in our country died in distraction-related crashes in 2019 alone; that’s at least eight people each day. That same year, 287,000 people were injured in distraction-related crashes. Researchers have found four different types of distraction while driving:
- Cognitive: The mental workload associated with a task that involves thinking about something other than driving.
- Manual: Tasks that require the driver to take a hand off the steering wheel and manipulate a device.
- Visual: Tasks that require the driver to look away from the roadway.
- Visual/Manual: Tasks that draw eyes and a hand off steering wheel to manipulate a device
For example, finding and selecting a playlist on a smartphone may require you to visually, manually, and cognitively interact with several smartphone menus. This series of tasks requires your brain to switch from the primary task of driving to the secondary task until it is completed. For that period of time, driving becomes the secondary task, and concentration on driving moves into the background.
Most people recognize when they are visually and/or manually distracted and try to disengage from those activities as quickly as possible. But they typically don’t realize when they are cognitively distracted, such as when using a cell phone. When your eyes, hands, and mind are not focused on driving, you increase the chance that you will make mistakes that can result in injuries or even death.
The Myth of Multitasking While Driving
Staying within your lane, noting the speed limit and navigation signs, and checking rear- and side-view mirrors are automatic tasks for most experienced drivers. But in this current culture, multitasking seems to be emphasized and overvalued, and the desire for increased productivity makes it tempting for people to engage in things that are unrelated to driving.
It doesn’t help that car manufacturers have developed more and more sophisticated ways to computerize functions and even entertain drivers who may think they can safely do two things at once. Witness the development of GPS and IVIS (interactive in-vehicle technology such as dashboard touchscreens while driving). You, as a driver, however, must always be prepared to respond to the unexpected, like the possibility of failing to see a stopped or turning vehicle. Even a pothole or an obstructive object in the road can pop up suddenly, causing you to swerve or even lose control of your vehicle.
So it’s good to remind yourselves often that your life—or the life of a pedestrian who stepped into the road or a cyclist you ‘never saw’—is worth more than any snack, drink, iTune, hairstyle, lipstick application, grudge, problem, or daydream you may possibly be thinking about. Driving safely and enjoyably on today’s roads, streets, and highways is challenging enough without all those distractions. Less input in terms of stimuli can definitely equal more positive output. Each time you start your car, make a commitment to not touch the phone or yield to the desire to multitask.