Distracted driving includes hands-free talking: researchers

In an age of constant communication and connectivity, it can be difficult to take a break. But drive time is when your phone should take a backseat to safety, say experts.

“You don’t need to be texting to be distracted by your phone,” says Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy at the National Safety Council. “Even hands-free talking is a major distraction.”

Research indicates drivers using handheld and hands-free phones only see about 50 percent of all the information in their driving environment. This phenomenon is known as “inattention blindness,” similar to tunnel vision.

While multitasking is valued in today’s culture, researchers find that the human brain doesn’t actually perform two tasks at the same time but rather switches attention between tasks. At your desk, this can be an effective and efficient way to work, but behind the wheel, “multitasking” can be deadly.

From checking GPS, to firing up a drive time playlist, there are countless smartphone-related reasons why people take their mind off the road. And newer in-vehicle systems allow drivers to call, text, email, update social media and browse the Internet, despite research showing these systems cause distraction that can linger after the driver finishes the task.

One of the major reasons drivers today are so distracted is one of the most surprising – pressure from your family. Indeed, 82 percent of Americans feels their family pressures them the most – above friends or employers to drive distracted, according to a recent NSC survey.

“It is a sad irony that the people we love are actually jeopardizing our safety the most,” says Nantel. “If you really care, don’t call to say, ‘I love you,’ instead encourage your family to set everything else aside, disconnect and focus only on the road.”

To prioritize safety and reduce your risk of being involved in a crash, turn your commute into “me time,” and your car into a safe sanctuary. The National Safety Council is offering some tips to take back your drive.

• Turn off your phone when you get in the car.

• Tell your family (and anyone else expecting to hear from you) that you will be driving and will call or text them when you are parked at your destination.

• Send emails and texts before you start driving.

• Return the favor. When friends, family or colleagues are driving, refrain from placing distracting calls or sending texts.

Driver distractions have joined alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. In recent years, thousands of people have died in crashes when drivers used cell phones.

The issue has started capturing the attention of political leaders nationwide and some are taking action to improve laws that promote safe driving, though no law goes far enough, say safety experts, because no law prohibits hands-free use. To learn more about the dangers of distracted driving and efforts to end this public health crisis, visit distracteddriving.nsc.org.

Driving contains enough risk. So put the phone away and encourage those you love to do the same.

–StatePoint

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