There have been a number of media stories recently about just how distracted people are when they’re on the road.


Notice that I said people, not just drivers.


Yes, drivers are certainly being distracted, and in huge numbers but so are motor bike riders, cyclists and pedestrians.


So this topic applies to everyone no matter whether you’re on two feet, two wheels, four wheels or more.


Of course a person can be distracted by many things but the main source of this distraction these days seems to be the smart phone.


Now, while these devices may help us in all kinds of positive ways, they also have a few points on the negative side as well. The main problem is our addiction to them. It seems that most people have become conditioned to a need to not only be constantly connected but also actively using the phone to check facebook, text, download videos, upload videos, snap chat, facetime, google, email, tweet and take selfies.


All of this is fine, but not (I repeat NOT) when you’re not on the road.


The trouble is that despite what you may have been told, humans cannot multi task. We’re simply not built that way. In fact we’re designed to only handle one major cognitive task at a time. If we’re presented with two cognitive tasks our brain will switch between the two as it tries to deal with both.


Trying to manage this situation inevitably leads to errors and mistakes.


Using a mobile device essentially takes us from having a broad and external focus to having a narrow and internal focus. This limits our abilities to look around at the environment, notice potential hazards, respond to an unforeseen incident and reduces our ability to assess what’s going on around us.


In addition if we’re texting or using the screen in some way, our eyes spend large amounts of time looking or interacting with the screen. Studies have shown that people can have their eyes off the road for several seconds at a time if they’re using a phone to text or using the screen. Clearly that is a big problem if you’re on the road.


So, what could you do to reduce the chances of being distracted by a smart phone?


The best approach is to remove the temptation by not having the phone in the cabin or switch it on flight mode before you hit the road.


The reason is that even if the phone is on silent, a flashing light or the buzz as the phone vibrates for new message it will still do what it’s designed to do, get your attention.


New research has as shown that the auditory or tactile notifications to alert users of incoming calls and messages can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering as you start to thinking “I wonder what that’s about?


The study also highlighted that the phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when the person did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.

Interestingly, the distraction effects from the alert just on its own was comparable distraction levels seen when users actively used a mobile phone, either for voice calls or text messaging.


The bottom line is that humans can’t multitask and that using a smart phone in anyway greatly increases your crash risks.


So if you’re on the road, stay off the phone. In fact power it down and make sure its out sight and out of mind.


Drive Safety Russell White

CARMA Ambassador