Are You a Phone Addict While Driving?
When cell phones were first getting popular, they were a novelty. We never imagined how indispensable these pocket computers would become or how much there would be to do with them in addition to than making phone calls. Now most of us have a hard time imagining life without a smartphone. We trust them with our calendars, our finances, our personal information, our diets—and our phones have turned into communication devices beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. It’s no wonder we spend so much time staring at them. For many of us, it’s a regular habit to whip out our phones for the slightest reason, and maybe this is how we fall into the practice of using them while driving. It seems safe enough while you’re doing it. Sure, you’re a great driver—better than most—and you’re certainly capable of multitasking
. This is what everyone tells themselves, but research proves that, in fact, humans are NOT capable of multitasking. Furthermore, new research has shown that many of us are so addicted to our devices that we have no idea how dangerous we are while using them behind the wheel. If you’re one of the “great drivers” who has no problem using a phone while driving, read on to find out if you’re a smartphone addict, and what it could mean for your safety.
Signs of Phone Addiction
Zendesk (a driving safety analytics company) recently released a report profiling what they call “phone addicts
,” an emerging segment of drivers who:
- Handle their phones four times as much as other drivers.
- Spend six times longer looking at the screens of their devices while driving.
- Take their eyes off the road for more than a fourth of the time they’re behind the wheel.
But let’s back up a step: before this new, phone-addicted type of driver emerged, the numbers were already bad. A steady increase in traffic fatalities since 2005 has been correlated to smartphone use by drivers, so all of us, addicted or not, do a poorer job of driving when we’re talking, texting, playing music, geolocating
or Facebooking. Bluetooth headsets don’t help, according to the research; even if your eyes are on the road, your mind still becomes distracted when you use a smart device. But phone addicts use their phones a lot more than normal drivers, dramatically increasing traffic risks. And 93 percent of them describe their driving as extremely safe. Research shows that this just isn’t true, yet, like any other type of addict, the addicted driver does not connect the danger with the behavior.
The Bluetooth Headset Myth
Although it seems like hands-free talking should reduce the risks associated with having a phone conversation while driving, the research results beg to differ. Yes, you do eliminate the additional risk of taking your hand off the wheel, but that still leaves a lot for the brain to process. Even with your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, your mind is not processing all the information. Instead, you’re using some of your brain power to process cognitive information from the phone call, drifting into mental scenarios from your discussion. This steals much-needed mental attention from the road and surrounding traffic, making you statistically as vulnerable as if you were holding your device or watching a video.
The Multitasking Myth
In today’s digital world, it’s common to hear people brag about how well they can multitask. But the truth is, while our brains are accustomed to changing tasks more rapidly than they used to be, we’re still just doing one thing at a time. Computers can function with multiple processors, but we have only one. We don’t multiprocess; what we actually do is rapidly juggle. So what does this do to our driving focus? Studies have proven that, when we add a second task to driving, some of the attention we were giving our driving is reassigned. There is also a switching time between the thoughts you are devoting to your phone and the thoughts devoted to driving, so more attention time is sacrificed as we “multitask.” These switch times take roughly a tenth of a second, and when you are multitasking at 60 mph, they add up to critical losses of attention span that can mean the difference between life and death. We don’t notice that we’re absorbing less driving information because of a phenomenon called “inattention blindness,” which makes it impossible to know what we’re missing while we’re missing it. When we talk on the phone and look ahead at the road, we think we’re seeing everything in our surroundings, but our brains don’t properly process most of that visual information. MRI tests were performed on the brains of drivers while alone, and then again while listening to a conversation, and researchers saw a 37 percent reduction of activity in the brain’s parietal lobe, which is associated with driving.
Overcoming Phone Addiction Behind the Wheel
If you’re one of the people who really has a hard time putting their phone down to drive, you’re among the highest risk drivers on the road today. The first step to becoming a safer driver is to admit that you are not, in fact, an exception to the rule. No matter how fast your mind works, you are still sacrificing traffic safety by using a smart device while driving. The surest way to recovery is to replace the habit of picking up your phone with a habit of taking a second look at traffic, looking around to see if anyone is in your blind spots, checking traffic conditions far ahead of you. There’s plenty to keep a good driver busy behind the wheel; you just have to remind yourself that you are in control of a massive machine, recognize that things can change in a heartbeat, and that driving deserves your undivided attention.