Multitasking while driving is a myth

by Mary Rains

Mille Lacs Health System

A recent National Safety Council (NSC) public opinion poll indicates 80% of drivers across America incorrectly believe that hands-free devices are safer than using a handheld phone. If you believe that you can have a conversation with your daughter about details regarding her upcoming move, plus pay attention to road construction and incoming traffic, you need to read the rest of this article.

While nearly all legislation focuses on banning only handheld phones or only texting while driving, the NSC notes that a multitude of recent studies show hands-free devices offer no safety benefit when driving, and hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction.

That’s because, contrary to the belief that multitasking is efficient and safe, our brains are not wired to divide attention in the way that driving and talking at the same time demand. If the brain is overloaded with too much incoming stimulation, it will decide what things to pay attention to because it can’t pay attention to everything at once. This is why people miss critical warnings of navigation and safety hazards when engaged in cell phone conversations while driving.

The NSC explains it this way: When people attempt to perform two cognitively complicated tasks such as driving and talking on a phone, the brain must shift its focus. Important information falls out of sight and is not processed by the brain. For example, drivers may not see a red light. Because this is a process people are not aware of, it’s virtually impossible for people to be conscious of mentally taking on too much.

Further, research has shown slowed reaction time to potential hazards are tangible, measurable, and risky. Longer reaction time is an outcome of the brain switching focus. This impacts driving performance.

The National Safety Council says that any kind of communication we do while behind the wheel – hand held or hands-free – affects our driving and is a dangerous threat to roadway safety. Don’t be fooled by the multitasking myth while driving. 

Your phone calls and texts can wait. Is it worth putting someone else in danger, or putting yourself and everyone driving in your car at risk? When you’re in the car this summer, just drive.