The Deadliest Sin of Distracted Driving

Image via  Shutterstock  by gazmandhu

Image via Shutterstock by gazmandhu

A harrowing image, and a chilling reminder.

There is perhaps no other distraction more dangerous than phone use behind the wheel, mostly because it has been normalised into something commonplace and acceptable. Driving is routine, and there is a sense of false pride and hubris that accompanies its familiarity.

Most of us are so comfortable and confident behind the wheel that we arbitrarily decide “just a little bit” of phone usage would pose no significant risk to our safety, or the people around us.

“I do it all the time, it’s never been a problem.”

“I’m really good at multitasking.”

That is, until disaster actually happens.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, and we will be covering various forms of distractions that can have a profoundly dangerous effect on your driving ability.

The Normalcy Bias

Image via  tips2survive

Image via tips2survive

Our minds are complex and capable of great intelligence, but as adept as we are in rationalising, we are also prone to cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Our estimation of danger in phone usage while driving is a great showcase of this example.

The Normalcy Bias is a belief people hold when considering the possibility of a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects, because people believe that things will always function the way things normally have functioned.

Ultimately, we know full well of its dangers; we also know how frequently accidents occur because of it, but we never think it’ll happen to us because it’s never happened before.

Yes, It Is More Dangerous Than You Think

The fact that phone usage is so rampant creates the impression that it isn’t as dangerous as it really is. Drivers may significantly underestimate how it decreases awareness on the road, visually, physically and cognitively.

For example, texting to say “On my way” takes 4 seconds on one hand, without looking up from the screen. If you are driving at 90km/h, that’s 100m traveled with no eyes on the road. Attempting to cycle through texting while glancing up to check every other second only extends the cognitive distraction.

Hands-Free is not Risk-Free

Modern cars now come with a slew of advanced infotainment technology built into the vehicle, allowing for calls to be made with several voice commands. However, more than 30 studies have concluded that having a phone conversation even on hands-free is no safer than hand-held, as the brain remains cognitively distracted by the conversation itself.

Voice texting is an even bigger distraction than manually typing texts, as drivers tend to look away more and the process itself takes longer than typing.

“A lot of people believe hands-free is safe, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Your brain cannot do all that,” explains Lisa Robinson from the National Safety Council (NSC), during a distracted driving webinar.

It Gets Worse

Unfortunately, texts and calls aren’t the extent of phone distractions in today’s digitally connected world. In a survey conducted last year in the U.S., about 18% of drivers have admitted to checking or using social media behind the wheel. Even more shockingly, there is also an alarming number of people who watch YouTube videos or Netflix while driving!

Tips to Avoid Phone Distractions While Driving

  1. Check in with loved ones before the start of your commute, eliminating the need to answer calls or texts while you are on the road.

  2. Turn your phone to Silent mode or activate Do Not Disturb While Driving mode.

  3. Make sure all preparations are done before driving, including navigation, music or podcast choice, volume settings, etc.

  4. If you are a passenger, speak up to dissuade your driver from using her or her phone.

Lastly, but most importantly, consider if what you’re doing is worth what could potentially be the last 30 seconds of your life, or someone else’s.