What is Multitasking?
You know what multitasking is. Everyone does. It’s almost a given these days. I don’t care what task you are performing you are probably in the habit of multitasking while doing it.
I’m multitasking right now.
I’m answering a colleague’s question, kicking off my shoe under the desk, while I am typing this sentence. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift is whining on Spotify about some guy who’s so mean all he’s ever gonna amount to is mean. But she’ll be livin’ in a big ol’ city. Oh… and I just got a ping from my cell – my sister wants me to drive to her house this weekend (150 miles). Her peaches are coming in fast and she has to pick them before the birds eat them. So now I’m also weighing the pros and cons of fighting holiday traffic for a bag of fresh-picked peaches.
But I am stationary behind my computer screen. I am not behind the wheel of a two ton vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour with many other innocent drivers and bystanders nearby.
Do I multitask behind the wheel?
Unfortunately we all do. And we may not even realize we do it.
Back in the day it used to be fine to sip a soft drink while driving, and maybe even change the radio “dial” or “roll down” our windows. But that was before seven-lane highways rife with left turns, commuting bicyclists, roadway signage everywhere, and millions of cars on the roads with minivan-wielding soccer moms filled with distracting kids rushing from practice to Chik-fil-A and on to the next practice.
And cell phones. Texting. Bluetoothing.
Our driving habits have become a real mess.
Who’s Guilty of Distracted Driving?
We are all guilty. Teens. Moms. Dads. You. Me.
Many people think distracted driving is a teenager problem. Not entirely. All of us become side-tracked and distracted without even realizing we’re doing it. Or realizing what a mistake it can mean to your life or someone else’s.
I was shopping in a locally-owned shop recently when the owner learned I work at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin in personal injury. She shared her tragic story of why she had to go back to work after she’d retired. Her husband was hit by a distracted driver, suffered a severe brain injury and had to leave his job as CEO of a major corporation. Their lives took an abrupt about face as they lost nearly everything they had due to medical bills. (He did not hire a lawyer, unfortunately.)
The at-fault driver was a teenager. He was texting.
The woman shared with me how very sad she felt for that teen who was not only unrepentant, but snarky about what his carelessness did to her family.
I was stunned.
One careless mistake and an entire family’s path went south.
Multitasking Behind the Wheel is Epidemic
Distracted driving has become epidemic. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) statics show distracted driving was the highest cause of “human choice” accidents, with six of 10 caused by distractions.
Cell phones, as we all know, are a common distraction (and one of the most deadly). In the era of Smartphones, one of the most common causes of accidents has been distractions from texting and using apps behind the wheel – even a map app.
Why Our Brains are Not Wired to Multitask
According to numerous research studies, our brains were not designed to focus on multiple tasks at once. Psychologists who study what happens inside your brain when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that we are not wired for heavy-duty multitasking.
Switching between tasks (multitasking) can cause a whopping 40% loss in brain productivity, and the National Safety Council underscores why multitasking is particularly dangerous behind the wheel.
If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, why can’t you drive and talk on your cell phone? Walking and chewing gum involve both thinking and a non-thinking task. Driving while talking on your phone are two thinking tasks that involve many areas of the brain. Your brain rapidly switches between two cognitive activities rather than processing both simultaneously and some things can get lost or minimized in the switching.
Isn’t talking on a cell phone the same as talking to someone in the car? No. Drivers talking on cell phones are more oblivious to changing traffic conditions because they are the only ones in the conversation who are aware of the road. When you are talking to another adult in the car (with another set of eyes) they may be able to help you remain aware of traffic.
Isn’t using hands-free devices safer than a cell? Research shows it is not. As different parts of our brain share tasks, activity in one part will decrease as activity in another part increases. If you focus on a conversation, whether it’s with another passenger, using a hand held device, or cell phone, activity in the parietal lobe will decrease by as much as 37% says a Carnegie Mellon University study.
When you use a cell phone you get what is known as “inattention blindness.” You look but you may not see. You can miss seeing up to 50% of your driving environment.
Drinking and driving vs. driving while distracted. A study by the University of Utah illustrated in a controlled simulator that using a cell phone while driving is just as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08, which is the legal limit behind the wheel in North Carolina. Just like alcohol, people can become addicted to their cell phones. Click here to find out the fascinating biological reason why.
Text behind the wheel and you are 23% more likely to cause a crash says the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) website, nhtsa.gov. As a matter of fact, it’s the same as drinking four beers. Both cause distraction and impaired driving that can result in following too closely, not being able to brake on time, or weaving into oncoming traffic.
We’ve all seen those cars that drift outside their lane. The RAC Foundation, a British motoring research organization, reports that texting while driving reduces steering control by 91%. And it decreases reaction time by 35%.
Multitasking Results in TMI
All of this is a result of too much information causing cognitive overload – our brain’s inability to hold so much information.
We are wired to have a working memory that can retain only two to four pieces of information at a time.
When more is required, our brain replaces the old with the new or it borrows from the auditory and visual parts of the brain.
Even when contemplating the next task, researchers discovered that an interruption – be it a phone call or deciding to check your email can cause you to take up to five minutes to refocus on your work.
Here’s a trivia question for you. What is the #1 distraction behind the wheel? (Keep reading for the answer.)
- Don’t put your car in drive until you and your passengers are settled in and ready to go.
- Take the time to check your surroundings and make sure anything you may need while driving is in reach so you won’t need to look for them on the road
- If you need directions, get them before you put your car in gear
Keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road and just drive.
Get a FREE Case Evaluation from an N.C. Car Wreck Lawyer
If you or a loved one were the victim of any kind of distracted driving accident, we strongly encourage you to seek legal help. We don’t want anyone to end up in a situation like the shop owner whose husband was incapacitated and didn’t hire a lawyer which could have potentially helped save his family from financial ruin as a result of that car wreck.
Trivia answer. The #1 distraction behind the wheel, according to Safestart.com? Wandering thoughts.