Most drivers feel that multitasking is a necessity. From eating a snack on the way home from work to personal grooming on the way to an early class, countless drivers complete activities while behind the wheel. Unfortunately, distracted, drowsy or impaired drivers can cause serious motor vehicle collisions due to their overall lack of attention.
Programmers and engineers attempt to reduce the impact of these distractions with every new car released to consumers. From a heads-up display (HUD) that projects critical information into the driver’s field of vision to a motion-sensing infotainment system that can increase or decrease volume with only a wave of the driver’s hand, many vehicles resemble something out of a science fiction movie. There is one major hurdle that remains, though, and it is one of the most popular diversions available to drivers – the cell phone conversation.
Are phone conversations dangerous?
Phone conversations are a common distraction for drivers. Whether it is connecting with friends and family during down time or completing job-related client calls, drivers have an innate desire to multitask. Many states recognize this is a risk factor and have instituted severe penalties for drivers making a hand-held phone call. Technology has also improved in the last decade allowing drivers to not only use a wireless headset to complete a call but speak directly through their vehicle’s audio system.
Unfortunately, this is still a distraction. A seminal report issued by the National Safety Council cites numerous often-replicated studies that suggest that holding the phone is not the distracting aspect of a phone conversation – the conversation itself is. While holding the phone is a manual distraction, forcing the driver to have a hand off the steering wheel, the conversation is a cognitive distraction that pulls the driver’s attention away from traffic patterns and the road itself.
What is a cognitive distraction?
Any activity that requires the driver to turn his or her focus from the road to the completion of that activity is a cognitive distraction. While experts had historically linked this notion to daydreaming and mental wandering, the myth of multitasking suggests that a phone conversation requires the driver to actively think about the discussion rather than truly focusing on the road, weather conditions and traffic patterns.
It is wise, then, for drivers to wait to have a phone conversation until they are safely at their destination. A cognitive distraction can prevent a driver from recognizing stopped traffic, a lane merge or a child crossing the street. Collisions caused by a distracted driver can result in devastating injuries and, in many scenarios, fatalities.