Distracted driving has become a growing subject of concern in our society. The advent of smartphones has created unprecedented opportunity for distraction in all aspects of our lives – including in the car. It used to be that the hamburger you’re eating or your screaming child in your backseat were the biggest temptations to take your concentration off the road. Nowadays, every ping on our phone represents the allure of a new text, tweet or Facebook post.
In recent years, the spike in traffic accidents as a result of distracted driving has led legislators and advocacy groups nationwide to develop laws and campaigns to discourage such behavior. Texas passed a law banning drivers from sending or reading any form of electronic message while driving – including at a stop light. It is also illegal to use any handheld device in a school zone, and for drivers under 18 to use handheld devices at any time.
While these endeavors are worthwhile to curb dangerous driving behavior, they have led to the overwhelming misconception that talking on the phone using hands-free technology is the safe, responsible alternative. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Here’s why:
Let’s say you and your sister are planning to have dinner together. You pick her up and head to the restaurant together. On the way, you naturally engage in conversation. In this scenario, you and your sister can both see the road conditions around you. If things get dicey or another driver behaves recklessly, you’ll both notice and naturally pause the conversation – allowing you to focus more energy on driving.
However, let’s say you and your sister decide to drive separately to the restaurant, and she calls you en route. In this case, she won’t see the SUV that just swerved in front of you. If you pause the conversation on your end, you’ll be less likely to explain the reason for it – and she’ll be more inclined to pick up the slack by talking more.
This causes added distraction. Your brain – unable to focus on two things at once – ends up alternating attention between driving and conversation. This scenario dramatically increases your chances of catastrophe. In fact, drivers who talk on hands-free devices just 50 minutes per month have a five times greater chance of getting into an accident.
We live in a world of unlimited connectivity. However, most conversations aren’t life or death. Waiting until you reach your destination to answer a phone call can have a huge pay-off in the long run.