Think you can multitask while driving and it won’t affect your risk of having a car accident? Think again. Brain researchers say it’s a terrible idea, even with a hands-free device. But just how terrible? Researchers say it’s akin to driving while legally drunk. That’s because distracted driving impacts and impairs one’s visual perception, in particular, peripheral sight. That text or phone call can wait.
It all goes back to science. We take for granted how much brainpower driving requires and how much information we must process quickly when we are behind the wheel. When we get behind the wheel we are faced with processing a significant amount of visual information, predicting the actions of other drivers and physical maneuvering. And that’s just during normal or optimal driving conditions. Add bad weather to the mix and we are forced to become even more nimble.
In general, humans just aren’t good at multitasking, in daily life or while driving. “If you test people while they’re texting or talking on the phone, they will actually miss a lot of things that are in their visual periphery,” Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NPR.
So what does this mean for drivers, especially inexperienced ones? If you’re a new driver, you need to turn down or off the radio and not carry on involved conversations with the people in the car with you. You need all of your brain to master the task of driving. While most people know that texting while driving is dangerous, most people don’t realize that talking on the phone while driving increases your risk of an accident. Anything that takes your mind away from driving — eating, sipping a soda, drinking coffee or applying makeup — can increase your odds of an accident.
Think hands-free devices eliminate the risk? Nope. Drivers talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones are 4X as likely to be involved in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council. In addition, the council estimates that people talking on cell phones while driving are involved in more than one-fifth of all traffic crashes nationwide.
If you are tempted to look at your phone while driving, you can try a few preventive measures. Turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode so that you won’t receive any notifications while you drive. Consider setting it up so your phone delivers an ‘I’m driving’ text to anyone who texts you while you’re behind the wheel. Don’t put your life and the lives of other motorists at risk by trying to multitask while you’re driving.