Multi-tasking in the Automobile

This presentation was done by David L. Strayer of the University of Utah at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). His important work on multi-tasking in the automobile has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts. To bring you up to date, matters have gotten worse. Elaboration on this point will follow later in this blog. Strayer had video of an individual who was not only texting, but also reading on his kindle why he was driving. He had another video of a motorcyclist who was texting while riding his motorcycle in traffic!

One of the problems with multi-tasking is that people who think they are good at it are usually especially bad at it and put others at risk. Research indicates that at any time on the road about 10% of the drivers are on their phones. Research has also indicated that driving and using your cell phone degrades driving performance to the level of those who are qualified to be legally driving under the influence (BAC > 0.08 %). Statistics indicate that a driver is 2.2 times as likely to commit a traffic violation when they are on a cell phone. Hands free laws are irrelevant. This is a matter of diverting a limited supply of attention. A common statement is, “how is this any worse than speaking with the passenger who is in the car with you?” Here the critical difference is that your passenger is likely aware of the situation and can actually assist you. Strayer had videos of people in a driving simulator with a passenger and a cell phone. Their task was to exit at a specific exit. Those who had a passenger did especially well with the passenger helping them to identify the exit. However, those on a cell phone were much more prone to drive past the exit. He also had video of a driver on a cell phone driving write through a red light and crashing into another car. The reason for this is attentional blindness. Speaking on a phone takes away attention needed for driving. There is a demonstration where viewers are asked to watch a video and count the number of passes of a ball completed by people in the video. During this video a man in a gorilla suit walks across the stage. Most people watching this video miss the man in the gorilla suit because their attention is directed at the ball tossing task!

Texting while driving is even worse. If you are going to text while driving, why not just drive off the road and save the lives of those you might kill texting while driving?   Matters are getting worse. Car manufactures are placing systems in cars that allow you to review email, search the web, and compose text messages while driving. Moreover, drivers can select from options and make dinner reservations. All this crap, and I do mean crap, is being placed in new automobiles without any regard for the risks they are creating!

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