Hands-Free Is Just As Bad! Distracted While Driving

AAAAAAH! Teenagers driving! Image by Rebecca Angel

“People often don’t readily accept science that angers or inconveniences them.”

That is a quote from sociologist Clifford Nass of Stanford University in the August 24th issue of Science News that featured a story on why science is constantly showing that talking on a phone (texting, holding, or hands-free) while driving is dangerous, and why the average person doesn’t want to hear it.  As a parent of a kid learning how to drive this is troubling to me.

According to the article, studies as early as 1997 have shown that we CAN’T multi-task, and this includes having a conversation with a disembodied voice, and paying attention to our own driving. The human brain toggles back and forth between things, and for some reason, having a phone conversation takes a lot of our brain’s attention, regardless if the phone is in your hand or not. Some researchers believe we make a mental picture of the person on the phone, constantly altering this picture as they talk, to recreate a real-life interaction. This takes away from our being fully present as a driver. Talking with someone in the car does not pose the same distraction.

The worst part is that people don’t notice how badly they are driving.

According to the data, people will do stupid things on the road while talking on the phone, but not even notice it. This is called “metacognitive awareness.” They get home and think they were driving just fine, so why change? The only wake-up call is when an accident happens and then it’s too late. Most driving trips are boring and uneventful so people fail to understand how they are upping their risk of hurting themselves and others while talking on the phone.

“Jeffrey Coben, an emergency room physician at West Virginia University in Morgantown, has seen the results of plenty of car accidents. He says injuries seldem occur because of chance events, such as equipment failure or lightning strikes. ‘Vehicle injuries are not accidents. They are predictable and preventable,’ he says. ‘Every crash is an interaction between an individual operation of the vehicle and the environment it’s in.’ The more distractions involved, he says, the greater the risk.”

The article is filled with interesting and eye-opening studies showing how poorly people are attentive while distracted by talking on the phone. My kid can’t even have the radio on while keeping track of everything she needs to on the road. Will she get more comfortable driving to start having more and more distractions in the car? Of course. But she better never talk on the phone. I made her read this article, and you should have your kids do the same. And you too!

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Rebecca Angel was one of those kids that put the dragon book on top of her pile in the hopes that someone would say, "Hey, I'm into that stuff too!" Alas, she had to wait until she was an adult to find fellow geeks. Luckily, she married one and their kids are too. Rebecca is a lover of tea, science literacy, music, funky tights, RPGs, anime, manga, comics, fantasy books and movies.