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The dangers of texting and driving to the driver and everyone else on the road

Or you realize you forgot to reply to an email, or a friend texts you. You think to yourself, Should I do it? Should I text, or email, or jot down my notes while driving? Of course, I first jotted down my ideas in my phone—after pulling over into an empty parking space.

Most crashes are caused by people like you and me who think they can pay attention to the road and do something else at the same time. Taking your eyes off the road has obvious disadvantages. But the real story behind the danger of texting while driving is far more interesting: It degrades our attention.

  1. They rationalize their behavior with an inflated confidence in their multitasking abilities.
  2. They rationalize their behavior with an inflated confidence in their multitasking abilities.
  3. Research also shows that when people are talking on the phone, crash risk quadruples. When you are engaged in conversation, be it on a call or texting—or even with someone else in the car—your attention is divided.
  4. But while texting is indeed worse than conversing while driving, it is not by much.

Over 90 percent of crashes are the fault of drivers. When you are engaged in conversation, be it on a call or texting—or even with someone else in the car—your attention is divided. And as fallible humans, we only have so much attention to spare. In fact, while there are very few magic numbers in life, there is a magic number associated with how many things we can attend to at once. In 1956, cognitive psychologist George Miller found that people can hold about seven chunks of information, give or take two or, five to ninein their minds at one time.

In all the driving-while-talking research, there is little to no difference in impairment between drivers using hands-free and hand-held phones. In 2001, before texting while driving had invaded the public sphere and the BlackBerry had become the smartest phone around, two researchers linked our limited attention to driving impairment. We are seeing, but not perceiving. Phone Calls Are Worse Than No Calls and Just as Bad as Drunk Driving A study using a driving simulator found that participants who engaged in hands-free phone conversations took longer to react to a car slowing down ahead of them compared to those who drove without conversation.

This driving-while-talking effect was exacerbated when there was high traffic density, because there were more attentional demands on the driver. Research also shows that when people are talking on the phone, crash risk quadruples. Drivers who are on a call are about equally at risk as is someone driving at the legal limit of blood alcohol content.

In one simulated-driving environment, drivers who were on their phones got into significantly more accidents than the drunk drivers.

Stop telling yourself you’re good at texting and driving

Importantly, in all the driving-while-talking research, there is little to no difference in impairment between drivers using hands-free and hand-held phones. Merely thinking about something other than the road is enough to strain attention and increase your risk of a crash. This is likely part of the reason or, shall I say, driving force behind the ill-informed policies that prohibit hands-on talking and texting but allow hands-free conversations. When we text, our eyes are averted, and of course we need to see to drive.

But there is more to texting than meets the eye. While talking on the phone puts a strain on attention interfering with step 2texting fully switches our attention.

It is not just divided, but completely taken over getting in the way of both step 1 and even more so step 2. But while texting is indeed worse than conversing while driving, it is not by much. Some researchers—using real cars, not simulators—found that hands-free phone calls are similarly distracting as conversations with another person in the car. We may recognize on a cognitive level that distracted driving is stupid, but we have no accompanying visceral feeling of fear, no associated emotion to guide our decision-making in the moment of temptation.

If our hearts started racing as soon as our attention started to drift, we might be more inclined to stay focused.

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Furthermore, we feel immune to the risks that affect other people. Consistent with this, three out of four people think they are above average drivers a statistical impossibility. We are simply overconfident in our abilities.

Finally, many of us have a lot of experience making bad driving decisions and not suffering any consequences. We imagine that the past will predict the future and ignore the actual risk. Watch the most gruesome car accident video you can find on YouTube and play it in your head every time you think of reaching for the phone.

Or to have a conversation.

  • Maybe worse, some believe they can multitask while driving;
  • You think to yourself, Should I do it?
  • While talking on the phone puts a strain on attention interfering with step 2 , texting fully switches our attention;
  • About three-fourths of survey respondents also admit to glancing at their phones while behind the wheel;
  • Indeed, drivers are deluding themselves if they believe they can multitask;
  • This driving-while-talking effect was exacerbated when there was high traffic density, because there were more attentional demands on the driver.

Or to get distracted in any other way. The real reason to stay on task while driving is to protect your most precious, most limited resource: