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How Good Are Drivers At Multitasking?

When people tell EMC Senior Safety Engineer Jim Stotser that they are good drivers, his first question is usually, “What does that mean?” According to Stotser, being a good driver is more than arriving safely at your destination. “It also means thinking about how your driving may impact other drivers along the way.”

Stotser, who logs an average of 5,000 miles a month on the road for EMC, has observed his fair share of self-described “good” drivers unable to maintain a steady speed, drifting from lane to lane or changing lanes without signaling. “These drivers may believe they are capable of multitasking, but a recent study proved differently,” notes Stotser. That study, conducted by the University of Utah, revealed that drivers who multitask may be inclined to do so because they have difficulty focusing on even a single task.

Stotser recommends policyholders adopt a distraction-free driving policy. “That means turning cell phones off and keeping them out of reach when on the road,” advises Stotser. “Anytime your mind is off the road, whether it's talking on a cell phone, eating or fiddling with your radio, you compromise your ability to be the good driver you believe yourself to be.”

Myth: Talking to someone on a cell phone is no more distracting than talking to someone in the car.

Reality: A 2008 study 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 alert the driver about oncoming traffic problems. Adult passengers also tend to talk less when traffic is challenging. People on the other end of a driver's cell phone are not aware of traffic challenges.

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

Reality: Whether the phone is handheld or hands-free, cell phone conversations while driving are risky because the distraction that conversation causes to the brain remains the same. Drivers talking on cell phones can miss seeing up to 50 percent of their driving environments, including pedestrians and red lights. This phenomenon is also known as “inattention blindness.”

Myth: Drivers talking on cell phones 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.

[Source: National Safety Council]

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