Did you know that, while driving one mile, you make about 20 decisions? And that your brain processes countless sensory cues from inside and outside your vehicle? Add to the mix answering your cell phone, searching for something in the glove compartment, or even thinking about work when you should be thinking about driving—and you are flirting with danger. Distracted driving is a factor in one million crashes in North America annually.
The Myth of Multitasking
People multitask, but our brains don’t. Scientists have learned that our brains don’t process more than one stream of information at a time. Behind the wheel, that means you’re either focused on driving or—at least for a few critical seconds—you’re a distracted driver operating a moving car.
In a multitasking study that simulated driving while talking on a cell phone, University of Utah psychologists found that 97.5 percent of subjects took 20 percent longer than those not talking on the phone to hit the brakes. And their following distances increases 30 percent, because they failed to keep pace with simulated traffic.
Three Kinds of Distractions
Distracted driving comes in several forms:
Visual: Taking your eyes off the road. This includes looking at billboards and scenery. It can result in drifting out of your lane or hitting the rear of a stopped car.
Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel to eat or reach for something. Without both hands, it’s harder to make quick corrections in steering.
Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving. This includes daydreaming or thinking intently about something else, like work. Known as inattentive blindness, it can have dire results, especially at higher speeds.
Did you know? When driving at 60 mph, you travel as far as a football field in just four seconds.
One Task at a Time
Drivers performing secondary tasks contributed to 22 percent of all crashes and near-crashes. So focus on a single task—driving. Before starting out, put away cell phones and adjust seats, mirror, and the radio. While driving, don’t let your brain go on mental autopilot. It’s important to be focused on driving, because many around you are not!
Tips to Being a Heads Up Driver
Plan ahead: Read maps, input data into your GPS, and check traffic conditions before you get on the road.
Stow electronic devices: Turn off or silence your phone before you drive so you won’t be tempted to use it while driving. Pull over to a safe place to talk on the phone or to send/receive text messages and email.
Prepare kids and pets for the trip: Get the kids safely buckled in and situated with snacks and entertainment before you start driving. If they need additional attention during the trip, pull off the road to a safe place to care for them.
Satisfy that craving off the road: Eat meals and snacks before getting behind the wheel or stop to eat and take a break if driving long-distance.
Store loose gear and possessions: Stash away loose objects that could roll around and take your attention away from driving.
Get your vehicle road ready: Adjust seat positions, climate controls, sound systems, and other devices before you leave or while the vehicle is stopped. Keep your windshield clean and remove dangling objects that could block your view.
Dress for success before you get into the car: Brush your hair, shave, put on makeup, and tie your necktie before you leave or once you reach your destination.
Get your brain in the game: Focus on the task at hand—driving safely. Scan the road, use mirrors, and practice identifying orally what you just saw to enhance your engagement as a driver. Keeping your head in the game behind the wheel will help you improve your overall awareness and behavior as a driver.