Driver’s seat no place to multi-task
By Steve Wallace, Victoria Times Colonist, December 04, 2009
The latest studies on driving distractions show surprising new information on how the brain processes and segments tasks.
When drivers are using a cell phone, either hand-held or hands-free, they will only be able to concentrate and act upon one task at a time. In fact, the driver will give attention to the perceived most important task and set back action on the secondary task. So much for multitasking as a driving technique.The new legislation regarding cell phones is a step in the right direction for increased safety of drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists and the public.
A dropped lit cigarette is an even more dangerous distraction than an absorbing chat on the cell phone. This driver is potentially doubling his trouble.
Chris Roussakis, Reuters
Studies on how the brain reacts to distractions have resulted in changes to driving laws. Let’s not forget the redeeming qualities of some distractions such as the cell phone. Mobile phones have the potential to help all of us in emergency situations. Heart-attack victims have been saved by a single phone call. All sorts of emergencies have come to a successful conclusion because of this relatively new technology.
There are distractions that are far worse, with no redeeming qualities. For instance, a dropped lit cigarette generally requires undivided attention. Drivers who eat while commuting are engaging in hazardous behavior as well.
Applying makeup, reading a map and taking off an outer garment, adjusting the seat, wheel, or searching the glove compartment — all are examples of tasks better accomplished while stopped.
Highway patrol would be well advised to enforce the laws concerning distractions and combine that with the already-concentrated speeding enforcement.
Many vehicles have fingertip adjustments for the temperature, CD and defogger functions, which can now be safely operated while driving.But some people try to juggle a cigarette, coffee and the driving task. Of late there have been several sensational examples of distracted drivers. Whether it is a texting driver or a bus driver doing a puzzle, the latest emphasis on distractions by authorities can only be good news for the driving public.
One woman was observed changing a toddler’s diaper while driving on a four-lane city road. Some may give her a citation for dexterity. The police think otherwise.How about the guy discovered reading a book on the freeway, travelling to and from work. It began while in gridlock and simply progressed to the commute. This insane behavior should be reported to the police.
People who drive with small animals, such as dogs or cats, on their shoulder or lap are unable to properly see or react in certain situations. The driver who takes the family cat for a first ride, only to have the feline hide under the brake pedal, is creating a greater risk than any of the previously mentioned distractions.
Driving is a complex task. It requires singular attention with minimum distraction. The latest studies put to rest the idea of a successful multi-tasking driver.
Drivers who are unable to hear properly are a hazard as well. Whether it is a boom box or some other device with earphones, it is a major distraction.
New drivers are particularly susceptible to being distracted by the simplest of tasks. Tuning a radio, inserting a CD and even talking to a passenger can result in horrendous car crashes at both high and low speeds. The back-seat no-passenger rule for new drivers was initiated because research showed the accident rate when the back seat was occupied to be akin to that of drinking drivers.
We would all do well to pay more attention to our driving, without distraction, for a safe and sure ride to our destinations.
Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.
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