Safety. We’ve all heard the importance of hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. What we don’t hear as much about is the importance for the mind to be focused on the task of driving. Drivers who talk on cell phones aren’t focused on driving. They believe they are, but the truth is, most of us, 97.5% of people, can’t multitask. The human brain just can’t perform to cognitively intense tasks at the same time.
Why can’t people safely have cell phone conversations while driving?
The human brain switches between tasks so quickly that we don’t realize the danger we put ourselves, and others, in. The brain suffers from what researchers have termed inattention blindness. It means that the brain loses its ability to process everything the eyes see and only a portion of the information is captured. Drivers engaged in cell phone conversations look out the windshield but fail to see up to 50 percent of the driving environment, missing important driving clues critical to safety, such as red lights, stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles.
Why don’t hands-free devices offer any safety benefit while driving?
Hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction. Hands-free devices are often seen as a solution to the risks of driver distraction because they help eliminate two obvious risks—visual and manual. Most people can recognize when they are visually or mechanically distracted and seek to disengage from these activities as quickly as possible. However, people typically do not realize when they are cognitively distracted; therefore, the risk lasts much, much longer.
How do cell phones differ from talking to passengers or listening to music while driving?
Drivers talking on cell phones make more driving errors than drivers talking with passengers. Adult passengers often actively help drivers by monitoring and discussing traffic and tend to suppress conversation when driving conditions are demanding. Talking on cell phones has a different social expectation because not responding on a cell phone can be considered rude. And while passengers can see the roadway and may moderate the conversation, callers cannot.
Listening to music does not result in lower response time, according to simulator studies. But when the same drivers talk on cell phones, they do have a slower response time. Researchers have concluded that voice communication influenced the allocation of visual attention, while low and moderate volume music did not.
This does not mean that listening to music or talking with passengers is never distracting. Loud music can prevent drivers from hearing emergency sirens, and cognitive processing can lead to a decrement in vehicle control. Some conversations with passengers can be distracting to drivers. Any task that distracts a driver should be avoided.
What can businesses do to protect employees?
FocusDriven supports businesses implementing a total ban on cell phone use while driving. The National Safety Council offers businesses a free Cell Phone Policy Kit. The resource is a customizable, turn-key tool for employers and includes:
- A sample cell phone policy
- Tips for management support
- Ideas to gain employee buy-in
- Posters and flyers for the workplace
- A one-hour course for employers to use in explaining the policy
Today, being accessible is an important part of business productivity. Many worry that banning employee cell phone use while driving will have a negative impact on productivity, but according to a survey of NSC member companies, 70% either saw no change in productivity or productivity increased.
FocusDriven applauds companies that are developing products to eliminate cell phone distractions. Technology that eliminates all cell phone related distractions will be most successful in changing behavior and saving thousands of lives each year. We do see the promise in technology to solve this problem; however, our board has made the decision not to endorse any specific products at this time.
Currently we are referring technology solutions to our strategic partner, the National Safety Council. Our mission focuses on victims and their families, on legislation and education to change behaviors. NSC is better equipped to review technology solutions. You may contact NSC directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (630) 285-1121.