Posted on June, 27th 2016
In April 2012, the National Safety Council released a white paper called “Understanding the distracted brain: Why driving while using hands-free cell phones is risky behavior.” The paper looks at the dangers of cell phones and hands-free devices. Since that time, we have seen more states enact bans of both handheld and hands-free cell phone use, stricter employee policies on talking and texting while driving, and many public service announcements warning about the risks of driver inattention. There are numerous video clips across the social media showing the perils of risky driver behavior. It’s such a prevalent issue that the USDOT maintains a website called distraction.gov where statistics, research, laws, outreach campaigns, and other resources are made readily available to those trying to eradicate the problem.
NHTSA reports that at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. (Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Research Facts 2011 )
That electronic device use challenges our ability to safely and effectively drive. Research indicates drivers using handheld and hands-free phones only see about 50 percent of all the information in their driving environment, a phenomenon which has been termed “inattention blindness.” Those hands-free devices are still impacting the brain’s cognitive capacity-cognitive distraction is often unrealized by the driver. A person engaged in a phone conversation while driving has now put their brain into divided attention mode. This creates a scenario where the brain is overloaded and information will be filtered out- this could be important roadway information and alerts to potential hazards. People do not have control over what information the brain processes and what information it filters out. The impact is so great, that 30 research studies and reports compiled by the National Safety Council all yield the same results- that hands-free phone use is no safer when driving (Source: Proceedings of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 48th Annual Meeting).
Recently, a friend was driving a semi-rural county roadway in our area, hauling a four-horse trailer. As she approached an un-signalized intersection, she was struck by another vehicle. There were no visual obstructions in the intersection. The stop sign was unobstructed. The weather was clear. It was daylight. The other driver, using a cell phone, crossed the roadway without stopping and collided with the horse trailer and flipped it over.
In a moment’s time, lives were lost. There was no roadway condition to blame. No engineering element missing. What should had been a routine trip, just a few miles from home turned into tragedy for one young woman because of a driver, who likely would have stopped at the stop sign had they not been distracted.
(Picture Source: National Safety Council)