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Multitasking is a Myth — Crashing While Texting is Real


How many people actually are wireless in 2011?

We know that in 2010, 292,800,000 people had wireless subscriptions.

We know that wireless-only households went from 2,138,400 in 2005 to 71,736,000 in 2010. An increase of over 30 times 2005.

We also know that the time people spent on wireless phones in 2005 amounted to 1,026,000,000 minutes (over 17,100,000 hours) and in 2010, increased to 2,026,000,000 minutes (over 33,700,000 hours).

In addition to talking to people, our phones have now gotten “smart” and we are able to email, text and post on the web. In fact text messaging has gone from 12,200,000 in the year 2000 to 135,200,000,000 in 2009. That accounts for over 370,410,958 text messages per day.

Let’s face it, we have become and are daily increasing our ability to be mobile; to communicate from anywhere and at anytime. But, that also suggests the question: Should we be communicating without regard for where we are and what we are doing?

I can tell you from my own recent experience that talking on a cell phone while driving a tractor is a really bad idea. Your ability to maneuver the tractor around obstacles and ditches is greatly reduced while focusing your attention on holding a cell phone and talking on it.

So what happens at 30 mph, 50 mph, or 70 mph while you are trying to drive a car and manipulate your smart phone?

Let’s break down the things you are doing just to operate a car down a road:

Visual: you are looking from one point to another in your field of vision. This includes managing a visual field that encompasses: front center, right and left; rear center, right and left; side view mirror to the right and side view mirror to the left; dash gauges including speedometer, temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge, and gas gauge.

Audible: you hear traffic road noise; you hear horns and must discern those warning you and those of an ambient nature; you hear the sound of your own vehicle and try to determine whether the noise is usual or unusual; you may hear the sirens of emergency vehicles and then must rely on additional visual responsibilities; and you are probably playing the radio or other listening device.

Physical: you are using your right foot to move between the accelerator and the brake; both hands are engaged with the steering wheel (when not changing radio stations); your eyes move from one point to another (see visual); your left hand must handle the turn signals; and your right hand may be shifting gears.

Mental: Your brain is engaged in all of the visual, auditory and physical activities; moving your eyes, taking in sounds, and moving limbs. In addition, it is processing all the input from your eyes and ears; trying to determine whether it is “business as usual” or whether that semi is going to suddenly change lanes into you.

Bottom line is your brain is functioning at its peak capacity while trying to drive a car, truck, boat or, well, a tractor.

But “I can multitask” you say? Really?

Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not multitask, but rather they select. Your brain is engaging in a constant process of picking and choosing what it needs to focus its attention on at any given second:

  • Selection – the brain tries to choose what information it will process
  • Process – the actual handing out of information and instructions to the body
  • Encode – the brain creates memory. You cannot process information and take ANY action without the brain storing the information in at least short term memory
  • Store – the brain store the information
  • Retrieve – the brain must access the information stored in memory
  • Execute – the brain instructs some part of the body to act on the information and then guides the necessary neurological responses to cause the action

While the brain is going through these steps for each piece of information it is receiving and for each action it is taking, it can be placed into a state of overload. Think of your brain trying to process multiple pieces of unrelated information as a computer would. What you often see when your computer van not process is the hourglass appearing on your screen and not going away. Nothing will work and you are forced to reboot. Your brain does not reboot, it simply selects what it is going to pay attention to and in what order it will process the information before it takes action. If the process is interrupted, the execution will be flawed or compromised in one way or another.

A perfect example for the tragic outcome of trying to multitask while doing something as important as driving can be found at the National Safety Council website:

In January 2004, at 4:00 p.m., in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 20-year-old woman ran a red light while talking on a cell phone. The driver’s vehicle slammed into another vehicle crossing with the green light directly in front of her. The vehicle she hit was not the first car through the intersection, it was the third or fourth. The police investigation deter­mined the driver never touched her brakes and was traveling 48 mph when she hit the other vehicle. The crash cost the life of a 12-year-old boy. Witnesses told investigators that the driver was not looking down, not dialing the phone, or texting. She was observed looking straight out the windshield talking on her cell phone as she sped past four cars and a school bus stopped in the other south bound lane of traffic. Researchers have called this crash a classic case of inattention blindness caused by the cognitive distraction of a cell phone conversation. The driver responsible for the above crash was on the phone with her church where she volunteered with children the age of the young boy who lost his life as the result of her phone call. She pled guilty to negligent homicide and the lives of two families were terribly and permanently altered. Countless numbers of similar crashes continue every day.

So, when driving a 3000 pound piece of metal hurling along a roadway, don’t ask more from your brain than it can reasonably deliver:

  • Stay off the phone
  • Don’t put on makeup or shave
  • Don’t read the newspaper
  • Don’t eat your breakfast, lunch or dinner
  • Don’t talk on the phone
  • Don’t text or email

Finally, never forget that, in 2008, 1,400,000 vehicle crashes happened as a result of cell phone use and as many as 1,000,000 crashes happened as a result of texting and driving; that is 2,400,000 unnecessarily hurt and injured people.

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Posted By: Bud Wilder