Multitasking and Driving—A Dangerous Combination

Accident Rates Go Up as Drivers Lose Focus on the Road

Distracted DrivingIt seems like we all do it at some time—in our hustle and bustle to get more and more done in the few waking hours we have, we engage in multitasking, asking our brains to carry on a number of different functions simultaneously. More and more research, however, points to a single conclusion—our brains are not designed to multitask and trying to do so is almost always counterproductive. Behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, it can be deadly.

Statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that nearly one of every 10 fatalities on American roadways (about 9%) is the result of distracted driving. The most common culprit—a handheld device. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, actions tied to a mobile device—sending a text message, surfing the internet or even just holding a cell phone up to your ear—contribute to about 1.6 million motor vehicle accidents every year.

There are, however, many other ways that you can distract yourself behind the wheel and put yourself and others at risk:

  • Eating or drinking behind the wheel—consuming food or beverages requires that you take at least one hand off the wheel, and often requires that you take your eyes off the road in front of you. Dropping food or spilling a drink can lead to a reflex reaction that puts you (and others) in harm’s way.
  • Attending to grooming—Combing your hair, putting on makeup, tying a tie or just checking your teeth—all put your focus on the rearview mirror and not on the traffic in front of you.
  • Checking your GPS—Whether it’s on your phone or a dedicated GPS, it takes your eyes off the road. Even if it’s just for a second, the consequences can be disastrous.
  • Dealing with unruly children—It may be annoying to have screaming children in the back seat, but you are safer, in most instances, to let your children be a little raucous. If it’s really affecting your driving, pull off the road.

Safely driving a motor vehicle requires that you be free of visual, manual and cognitive distractions. You don’t want to engage in any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel or your mind off the task at hand.

That applies to anytime you are behind the wheel, even if you’re sitting at a red light or a stop sign. There’s a common misperception that it’s fine to check e-mails, send text messages or look up a song while you’re waiting for the light to change. The reality—it’s every bit as dangerous as multitasking while traveling 70 miles per hour. You can miss a pedestrian crossing in front of you or start moving forward simply because you detected movement, even though the light hasn’t changed.

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