Figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation reveal that at any given moment in the U.S., “812,000 vehicles, are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.” This is a startling number because using a mobile phone while driving, whether it be handheld or hands-free, impairs one’s ability to operate the motor vehicle.
Researchers at the University of Utah found that cell phone distraction “delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08,” which is the legal limit for drivers 21 and older in all 50 states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in cooperation with Virginia Technical University, found that using a mobile phone while driving has a dramatic impact on a driver’s capabilities and greatly increases the chances of a car accident.
Dialing on a cell phone results in accident rates 2.8 times the normal rate. Talking on a cell phone results in 3.1 times the accident rate, and text messaging, the most foolhardy behavior of all, increases the risk of an accident by a staggering 23.2 times.
As a society, how did we arrive at this point? How can so many people so foolishly drive 40, 50, 60, even 70 miles per hour in a moving vehicle weighing 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, and not recognize the inherent dangers to themselves, their passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians when they allow themselves to be distracted by a cell phone?
Was there a sudden worldwide drop in IQ? Amazingly, 65% of drivers with a college degree or more reported having talked on a cell phone while driving, according to the Distracted Driver Handbook.
If otherwise intelligent drivers are engaging in risky behavior, something else is at play — addiction to constant communication. Some people simply cannot bear to be away from their electronic leashes. They need to be connected to the world at all times, or else they somehow feel as if they are out of the loop, deficient, cut-off, lonely, or worst of all, potentially ignored.
Some erroneously believe that doubling and tripling up on activities in some kind of grand multi-tasking dance will somehow make them more productive. My 22 years of study
on this topic indicate that the few minutes multi-taskers gain by doubling or tripling up on tasks is more than offset by the long term losses that accrue: the internal stress and tension, the unrecognized errors, and the divided attention bestowed upon others all take their toll.
Is it That Important?
Realistically, precious few conversations within the course of a day merit drive time. Short of an emergency — and even then many conversations shouldn’t happen while operating a moving vehicle — no cell phone conversation should occur at this time.
Cell phone lobbyists and other parties with a vested interest in selling products and services make proclamations that support their point of view. They say that speaking to a passenger in the car or listening to the radio also represent distractions. The point is not well taken. Speaking to someone next to you and conversing in real-time requires completely different cognitive capabilities than speaking to someone on a cell phone.
Listening to the radio, or to a CD, does not compete for what’s known as your sharp attention in the way that a cell phone does. Even eating while you drive, which is not recommended, poses far less risk than attempting to converse with someone who is not present. As has always been the case, human beings can offer sharp attention in only one direction at a time.
Sharp Attention is not Negotiable
Both driving down the road in a moving vehicle and speaking on a cell phone compete for your precious sharp attention. While many people believe they can handle both activities adroitly, actually their brains are switching back and forth nanoseconds at a time between the two activities with an ultimate loss in attention and effectiveness.
Human physiology has been in formation for tens of thousands of years, while the rise of the cell phone — in particular, the rise of speaking on a cell phone while driving — is a recent phenomenon. As a species, we cannot adapt so quickly that simultaneously driving and speaking on a cell phone becomes harmless. For the foreseeable future, such a combination will continue to result in highly unsafe driving.
If you’re the passenger in a car where someone is multi-tasking in this manner, ask him or her to stop. If you are on public transportation, particularly a bus, ask the driver to stop engaging in this behavior and report the driver. You owe it to yourself and to the people around you to ensure that your moving vehicle has the highest probability of arriving safely at the chosen destination.