Can We Really Multi-Task in our Cars?

Can We Really Multi-Task in our Cars?

We are all becoming superheroes who can simultaneously drive the kids to school, finish our breakfast and call work to let them know we are running late … or are we? Are our brains really capable of doing everything we want them to do all at once, or are we risking disaster from distraction?

A report by the Transport Research Laboratory and the Institute of Advance Motorists enlisted the help of some expert psychologists to produce The Battle for Attention Report looking at what is distracting us from driving safely.

While driving a distraction is considered any task that requires our attention and is non-driving related, such as;

  • Entertainment or climate control
  • Reading maps
  • Interaction with other passengers in the car
  • Any eating, drinking or smoking
  • Adjusting clothing or any other body care
  • Looking at roadside objects
  • Text messaging, use of internet and social media or talking on a mobile phone

Human error remains the leading cause of motor accidents. Technology is becoming more and more advanced producing safety systems that can warn us of obstacles we may have missed, assist us to brake in time or keep us alert when we may be veering out of lane. Autonomous Emergency Breaking Systems are thought to be a main contributory factor to 11 cars receiving the highest 5* rating in the latest Euro NCAP safety tests. The 5* award was given out to the Jaguar XE and XF, Kia Sportage and Optima, Vauxhall Astra, BMW X1, Mercedes Benz GLC, Renault Megane and Talisman, the Infiniti Q30 and Lexus RX. But, experts warn technology is also driving us to distraction inside the car with mobile phones meaning the internet, apps and a quick text message are just a click away.

We may believe we are capable of concentrating on the road while we have a chat or check Facebook, but in reality there is no such thing as true multi-tasking (sorry Ladies not even for us!). The brain is only capable of concentrating fully on one task at a time. If several tasks are being attempted, one task will almost definitely interfere with the other. If competition for the brains resources are split between different tasks, the brain is much more likely to switch between tasks rather than divide attention between them all.

The Battle for attention report defines 4 main types of distraction;

Cognitive – this distraction occurs when the mind engages in a non-driving task reducing the resources available that are usually used for driving.

Visual – this distraction occurs when a driver averts their eyes from the road to perform a secondary activity.

Auditory – this occurs when a sound snatches the drivers attention to a non – driving related source. Often a driver will also suffer from visual distraction as they look to find the source of the noise. In some cases auditory distraction may be of benefit to the driver as it may be a feature within the vehicle that alerts the driver to a potential danger.

Manual distraction – this type of distraction occurs whenever the driver takes their hands off the wheel for any activity not related to safe driving.

As driving is such a complex task any other activity will reduce a driver’s concentration and make an accident more likely. In 2013 just under 3,000 accidents listed distraction inside the vehicle as a contributing factor. The distraction report produced a table showing the effects of different distractions on drivers;

Of all the distractions a driver may face, it can be seen texting is the most risky as this involves a high level of distraction of cognitive, visual and manual processes. It seems the public agree with these findings as 77% of people surveyed by the Institute of Advanced Motorists believe distraction caused by technology is a bigger problem than it was 3 years ago. A massive 93% of respondents believe text messaging while driving is a very or somewhat serious threat. What do you think is the biggest distraction danger on the road?

Technology in our cars, vans and minibus' may be both a hindrance and a help. Perhaps while we are in the car we should ignore all the phone calls, emails, text messages and social media distractions we normally can’t get away from. We could use the time to enjoy a moments peace from the outside world, while we quietly accept we are not superheroes after all!

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