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Multi-tasking good - except when driving

2015-01-30 12:24

FINAL MOMENTS? Just a second of lost concentration while 'multi-tasking' with a cellphone and you too could have this expression. It's the one just before impact... Image: Shutterstock

A recent American survey revealed that more than 90% of car drivers know it's dangerous to text while driving - but then go right ahead and do it anyway. It's the reaction of a drug addict.

Plus, these "addicts" feel they can multitask. Wrong, read on and find out why...

In South Africa, according to Arrive Alive, distracted driving is described as “an epidemic sweeping our roads". The National Highway Traffic Administration puts cellphone use at the top of its list of driving distractions.


Elmarie Twilley, spokesperson for Afrikaans insurance brand Virseker, put it this way: “Studies suggest that texting while driving is riskier than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. People drive more erratically when they’re texting than when they've been drinking alcohol.

"That raises the likelihood of a a crash sixfold."

About 75% of the US survey's respondents also admitted glancing at their phone while driving but the really scary part is the lengths to which people will go to justify such behaviour. For example, more than 30% of respondents believed they were able to do several things at once once driving.

Twilley explained: “Such people don’t multi-task because they are better at it, they do it because they are more impulsive and adrenalin-seeking than other people. They tend to rationalise their behaviour with an inflated confidence in their abilities."

Often, it seems, the impulse to continue dangerous behaviour is strong.  According to research, we compulsively check our phones because of a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy. This creates a sense of withdrawal when we’re not using the phone.


“Addiction drives the behaviour,” insists Twilley. “It’s a psychological mechanism through which drivers convince themselves that just this one time won’t be dangerous. This is a cognitive distortion and it goes directly against the fact that, intellectually, they know that what they are doing is very dangerous.”

It's difficult for anybody to do several things at once. In fact, a study conducted by Professor David Sanbonmatsu of the University of Utah's psychology department showed that people with the most confidence were actually worst at it.

"In reality," says Twilley, "we can only perceive a small fraction of the world at a time. So, if you’re focused on your cellphone, you may see an empty road ahead because it was empty a few seconds ago. Problem is, it isn't now..."


However, according to the survey, there's still hope for the worst offenders - those most likely to text and drive are also the most likely to take steps to stop."

So, Virseker has some possibly life-saving guidelines for cellphone addicts to follow:

  • If you can’t drive without reaching for your phone and/or texting, then you may be addicted and it’s time for a detox.
  • Lock your phone in your car's boot while driving to avoid temptation.
  • Remember that you are not monitoring the road while you are texting, you are relying on the brain's prediction that nothing was there before. This illusion can lead to tragic results.
  • If you're one of those people who think you can multitask, you are mistaken.
  • Remind yourself that just a seconds-worth of lost concentration on the road can result in a fatal accident.
  • If you feel disconnected or anxious and experience "cellphone withdrawal" symptoms while driving you need to address the problem.
  • Download an App which prevents messages coming through while you are driving and let’s senders know that you’re on the road.

The final telling words from Twilley: “Your life and those of your passengers - not to mention other road users in your vicinity - are far more important then sending a message, texting or checking social media while on the road."

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