Intexticated: distracted by the act of texting while driving
to such a degree that one seems intoxicated.
What follows is a partial excerpt from my new book (of “Phubbing” fame), Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?
I have one request of everybody who reads this. Please share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. It might save their life.
We all know the tell-tale signs…. a hand over the right ear of the driver in front of us, someone driving 50 miles per hour on the Interstate. Or, the slow “lane drift” as the driver in front or beside you slowly creeps into your lane and then corrects his lane tracking before he does it all over again. The “mobile” phone is no misnomer. As many as 100 million U.S. drivers admit to talking or texting while driving (1). As many as 91 percent said they talk on their cell-phone while driving and a surprisingly 50 percent confess to texting while operating a motor vehicle (2).
The debate on cell-phone use while driving comes down to our ability as humans to multitask. Can we hold conversations, check e-mails, surf the Internet, or text a friend while operating a motor vehicle? Many of us think we can but what does the data say? The National Safety Council (NSC), is a non-profit, non-governmental public service organization, whose mission is to “protect life and promote health” in the United States (3). The NSC has taken a careful look at whether humans can operate motor vehicles safely while using their cell-phones. In a brief report entitled, “The Great Multitasking Lie”, I think you know where this is going, the people at NSC lay to rest the idea that we can operate 2,000 pound-plus motor vehicles without placing ourselves and others at risk. I call it “The Great Driving While Distracted Disconnect.” The majority of us have acknowledged that talking and texting while driving are two of the most dangerous things we can do behind the wheel, yet 81% of drivers admit to talking or making a phone call while driving (4).
The fine folks at NSC are doing their best to debunk the multitasking lie that we can operate a motor vehicle safely while using our cell-phone. They focus their attention on four myths about multitasking that they feel “blinds” the driving public to the dangers of cell-phone use while driving.
The first myth they debunk is that Drivers Can Multitask. In fact, the very idea that humans can multitask is shot down as a common misconception. Driving a car and using a cell-phone, argues NSC, are both thinking tasks that require the involvement of many different areas of our brain. We can’t do both things simultaneously, so our brain attempts to switch back and forth between each of the activities. So, any even momentary focus on our cell-phone conversation comes at the expense of lack of attention to our driving task.
The NSC uses the example of walking and chewing gum to make their point. The common thinking goes, if we can walk and chew gum at the same time, we should be able to use our cell-phone while driving. This analogy, however, is a poor one. Walking is a thinking task but chewing gum is a non-thinking task.
This reminds me of a funny story about my daughter Chloe’ when she was a child – maybe six or seven years old. Her mother warned her that it probably wasn’t a good idea to read a book while taking our nightly walk. But, as kids will do, she insisted and promptly tripped on the curb and skinned her knee–so much for multitasking.
A second myth is that talking to someone on your cell-phone while driving is no different than talking to a passenger in the car. Wrong again. The NSC cites a 2008 study out of the University of Utah that found that drivers talking on their cell-phone are “more oblivious” to constantly changing traffic conditions because the person on the other end of “the line” (old habits die hard) have no idea of the current traffic conditions currently being encountered.
On the other hand, a passenger is experiencing the same road conditions as the driver and acts as an “extra set of eyes and ears” regarding the driving situation. A conscientious passenger may quit talking when the driving situation warrants greater concentration or even provide advice or warnings about various traffic developments. The conversant on the other end of the line is blissfully unaware of any such developments and can only act as a distraction to the driver.
A third myth debunked by NSC is that “hands-free” devices will solve any problems created by driver inattention while using their cell-phone. Oh, if this were only the case. Whether it’s hand-held or hands-free the conversation remains a distraction because your brain is still attempting to deal with two thinking tasks (driving and talking) simultaneously. To support their contention, the NSC cites a study out of Carnegie Mellon University, that found activity in your brain’s parietal lube “that processes movement of usual images and is important for safe driving, decreases by as much as 37% when listening to language…” (5). Referred to as “inattention blindness”, drivers talking on their cell-phone miss as much as 50% of their driving landscape including stop signs, pedestrians, or on-coming traffic.
The fourth myth debunked by NSC is a big one, but still kind of a lame excuse by cell-phone drivers. The excuse goes something like this, “well, I may have lost some reaction time while talking on my phone, but it’s better than drunk driving.” Sad, I know, but astonishingly not true. A study at the University of Utah found that drivers using their cell-phone actually had slower reaction times than drivers who were legally drunk (.08 blood-alcohol content). That’s hard to believe, our friend who had a few too many drinks at Applebee’s after work is less of a menace than those of us who text to check on “what’s for dinner” on our way home from work.
To learn more about how our love affair with smartphones is affecting our lives go to www.smartphoneloveaffair.com.
1. David L. Strayer & Frank A. Drews (2007), “Cell-phone – induced driver distraction, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 16, no. 3.
2. Pinchot et al. (2011), “How mobile technology is changing our culture,” Journal of Information Systems Applied Research, 4 (1), pages 39-48.
3. www.NSC.org, accessed 5-10-2013.
4. “Cell-Phone & Texting Accident Statistics,” http://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/cell-phonr/cell-phone-statistics.html, accessed 4-5-2013.
5. National Safety Council (NSC) – Multitasking Myth #3, http://www.nsc.org/safety-road/distracted_driving/pages/ddam.aspx, accessed 5-2-2013.