Is Distracted Driving All in Your Mind?

As a mobile provider, it’s our job to share information that will help keep you safe and that may make you think twice before picking up the phone in a dangerous situation. Below is a guest post from John Vavrik, Consulting Psychologist with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), that was published on TELUS Wise and that we wanted to share:

I’m a good driver so I can multitask.” We frequently hear statements like this when drivers try to justify using their phones while driving. But is it really true?

For most people, driving feels easy and automatic. After driving for several years, we develop highly practiced skills in the basic operation of a vehicle – skills that feel like they don’t require much concentration. (Remember how it felt the first time you backed out of your driveway? And now? Big difference in your confidence and skill level, right?) So it’s not surprising that we feel we can add a new task like answering a phone or sending a text message and still drive safely.

But even when we perform simple tasks like keeping the car going straight or maintaining speed and adequate space behind the car ahead, our brain is hard at work, constantly monitoring and processing hundreds of pieces of information from the driving environment. That’s why even a split second lapse of attention can cause lane departure or getting dangerously close to the car ahead.

We’ve known for a long time that the brain has limited cognitive resources and this limits our capacity to multitask – no matter how experienced we are or how fast our reflexes. And not all multitasking is equally distracting. We can drive and do something like turn up the volume on the radio or roll down the window without much danger – we don’t have to consciously think about what we’re doing and keep our eyes and mind on the road. But if we’re driving and want to call someone or send a text message, our brain has to do a lot more conscious thinking: choosing the right words or keystrokes, or responding quickly to avoid gaps in the conversation. These tasks are more complex and require greater mental resources. So our brain switches “off” of driving and “on” to the phone conversation or text message. In those few seconds, the likelihood of crashing greatly increases. In fact, we are four times more likely to crash if we use our phone while driving – never mind the near misses and annoyed drivers.

We sometimes feel that it’s okay to use a phone when we’re stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic, however, when we do, we lose about 50 per cent of what’s going on around us visually. We may see the light turn green but we might miss the pedestrian or cyclist who pulled up beside us. What’s more, new research is showing that we continue to be distracted for several seconds after we put the phone down and resume driving. Even when stopped in traffic, we’re still driving – we’re in control of the vehicle.

No call or text is so important it’s worth risking your life or anyone else’s. Remember, when you’re on the road, stay off the phone.