April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month: Hands-Free is not Risk-Free

Source: National Safety Council

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Thousands die needlessly each year because people continue to use their cell phones while driving – handheld or hands-free. Most people may know that texting while driving is a dangerous behavior. However, many do not fully grasp the idea that having cell phone conversations in the car is also risky.

It’s no mystery that Americans today have an unhealthy obsession with their cell phones. A 2012 survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that more than two in three drivers report talking on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days. Nearly one in three says he/she did this “fairly often” or “regularly.” Drivers talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones are four times as likely to be involved in a car crash. And, the National Safety Council estimates that people talking on cell phones while driving are involved in 21% of all traffic crashes in the United States, according to 2010 data

Even though the facts are clear, cell phone users continue to talk and drive…without a complete understanding of how this seemingly simple act risks lives – yours, your passengers, your fellow motorists and unsuspecting pedestrians. Below, the National Safety Council helps dispel the illusion of multitasking and the myths that blind the public into believing it is safe to use your cell phone while driving.

Myth #1: Drivers can multitask.

Reality: Contrary to popular belief, the human brain cannot multitask. Driving and talking on a cell phone are two thinking tasks that involve many areas of the brain. Instead of processing both simultaneously the brain rapidly switches between two cognitive activities. This is in contrast to walking and chewing gum, a thinking task and a non-thinking task, which can usually be accomplished at the same time with little effort.

Myth #2: Talking to someone on a cell phone is no different than talking to someone in the car.

Reality: A 2008 study cited by the University of Utah found that drivers distracted by cell phones are more oblivious to changing traffic conditions because they are the only ones in the conversation who are aware of the road. In contrast, drivers with adult passengers in their cars have an extra set of eyes and ears to help keep the drivers alert to oncoming traffic problems. Adult passengers also tend to adjust their talking when traffic is challenging; people on the other end of a driver’s cell phone cannot do that.

Myth #3: Hands-free devices eliminate the danger of cell phone use during driving.

Reality: Whether handheld or hands-free, cell phone conversations while driving are risky because the distraction to the brain remains. Activity in the parietal lobe, the area of the brain that processes movement of visual images and is important for safe driving, decreases by as much as 37% when listening to language, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University. Drivers talking on cell phones can miss seeing up to 50% of their driving environments, including pedestrians and red lights. They look but they don’t see. This phenomenon is also known as “inattention blindness.”

Myth #4: Drivers talking on cell phones still have a quicker reaction time than those who are driving under the influence.

Reality:  A controlled driving simulator study conducted by the University of Utah found that drivers using cell phones had slower reaction times than drivers with a .08 blood alcohol content, the legal intoxication limit. There is a simple solution – drivers talking on cell phones can immediately eliminate their risk by hanging up the phone, while drunk drivers remain at risk until they sober up.

DOWNLOADABLE RESOURCES:

Hands-Free Mythbusters

Distracted Driving Family Contract

The Great Multi-Tasking Lie (Poster)

It’s Still Risky (Poster)

When Technology is a Problem, Not a Solution (Poster)

You Can’t Do Either Well if You’re Doing Them at the Same Time

Join the National Safety Council this April (as well as throughout the year) in urging those you care about to stop using cell phones while driving. Visit the National Safety Council for information, resources and campaign materials promoting Distracted Driving Awareness Month. 

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