Your Phone & Cognitive Processes

Chances are you have heard that texting and driving is dangerous. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that it’s banned in 41 states, many drivers still choose to text and drive. The danger with phone distraction doesn’t stop at texting though—let us consider the gamut of potentially fatal phone habits in relation to the way our brain functions.

Texting and Driving

When you’re texting and driving, you’re unable to fully focus on either task. Your brain has to operate on several different levels in order to effectively drive a car. Your visual attention needs to be on the road so that you can see turns, perceive potential problems, and determine where you’re going next. Your manual attention needs to be directed to the wheel as you control the car. Your cognitive attention needs to be on the task of driving and navigating. Unfortunately, texting interrupts all three processes: manually as your fingers work the buttons on your phone, visually as you look down at the phone, and cognitively as you think about the message instead of about your driving. This divided attention can be costly. Each time you look down to answer a text message, you take your attention off of the road for an average of 4.6 seconds—even a split second is enough to get you into a potentially fatal car crash.

Talking on the Phone versus Talking to a Passenger

Texting while driving is a bad idea, but what about talking on the phone? Surely it must be safer than looking down at a text message, especially if you’re using hands-free technology...Besides, you talk to people who are in the car with you. How is that different? Talking on the phone, however, IS different, vastly different than talking to someone in the car. Mainly, the person in the car with you is aware of what’s going on. That person automatically allow for the ebb and flow in conversation that’s natural as you navigate intersections, change lanes, and avoid obstacles. The person on the other end of the phone, however, has no such map of what’s happening in your car. As a result, they may start talking at just the wrong moment, distracting you when your attention most needs to be on the road. Everyone is impacted by the cognitive distraction of talking on a cell phone while driving. Your brain isn’t as good at juggling tasks as you’d like to believe. When you’re focused on too many things at once, it creates a bottleneck effect that can make it difficult for you to process what’s going on around you or dangerously slow your reaction time at just the wrong moment. 

No Shortcuts; Safe Driving is a Choice 

Many drivers believe that hands-free devices and talk-to-text programs to increase their safety behind the wheel and make it easier to keep their attention on what they’re doing. Unfortunately, these hands-free devices also dramatically decrease your ability to cognitively focus on the road.

Even just hearing your phone is a distraction, so develop the habit of turning your phone off or shifting it to silent mode when you get behind the wheel of the car.

As much as you’d like to be connected to your friends and family wherever you go, using your cell phone behind the wheel in any capacity is simply not worth the risks. By making the choice to drive distracted, you risk not only your own life and those in the car with you, but also everyone else on the road with you. Commit to driving distraction-free today.

Fay Niselbaum

Fay Niselbaum is a content specialist at The Law Office of Zev Goldstein, a NY speeding ticket lawyer. Fay loves cooking, blogging, and spending time with her family.