Jeramie Johnson

Station Safety

Community Writer

Distracted driving occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off your primary task–driving safely.

Myth: A hands-free device eliminates the dangers of cell phone use while driving.

FACT: Hands-free devices offer no safety benefits because they do not eliminate cognitive distraction. The brain cannot process two cognitively complex tasks at once and, as it switches from a cell phone conversation to driving and back again, the brain becomes so overloaded that drivers can miss seeing up to 50% of their driving environment.

Myth: If a driver’s eyes are on the road at all times then he/she is safe.

FACT: Drivers may be looking at their driving environment while they are talking on a cell phone device. The problem is that the driver looks but does not “see.” Distracted drivers experience what researchers call inattention blindness – similar to tunnel vision. Drivers look out the window, but their brains do not process everything necessary to safely monitor their surroundings. It is because a driver talking on a cell phone is focused first on the cell phone conversation; the brain prioritizes the cognitive task of driving second.

Myth: Even if hands-free devices are dangerous, talking on a cell phone still is not the worst thing drivers can do behind the wheel.

FACT: There are other activities that are more dangerous for drivers such as turning around to reach for an object in the back seat or rummaging through a purse. However, these distractions typically last just a few seconds because drivers realize the risk and the actions are short lived. Cell phone conversations often are longer because drivers do not realize they are cognitively distracted. The longer a call, the longer the exposure to risk. That is why cell phone use causes more crashes than more dangerous activities – because of the number of people engaged in the behavior at any given time.

Myth: If cell phone use while driving is cognitively distracting, then drivers also should not talk to other passengers.

FACT: Some passenger conversations can be distracting to drivers such as intense conversations or arguments. But adult passengers often actively help drivers by monitoring and discussing traffic, and they tend to suppress conversation when the driving environment becomes demanding. Passengers can see the roadway; callers cannot.

At 45 miles per hour, a driver glancing away for two seconds is driving blind for a distance of 132 feet—almost half the length of a football field. As a result, the driver’s reaction time is shortened dramatically. Looking away from the road, reaching to pick up something from the floor, or letting your attention focus on anything other than driving can have immediate, deadly consequences. Stay focused. Plan ahead. Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid the temptation to “get lost” in conversations, talk radio programs or respond to aggressive drivers. Stay safe.