There’s a common (but deeply mistaken belief) that people can effectively handle more than one task at a time – but the human brain is not actually designed to handle multiple complex activities all at once.
When it comes to actions that require significant mental engagement, such as driving, trying to multitask can have serious consequences, including accidents.
Attention is a finite thing
When people think they are multitasking, what they’re actually doing is rapidly switching their attention from one thing to the next and back again. The more a would-be multitasker tries to handle at once, the more their attention on any one thing is reduced, and that can slow their ability to process new information and dull their reaction times – which can be deadly if there’s suddenly an unexpected situation in the road. Multitasking is a major cause of distracted driving accidents, as drivers try to manage text messages, take phone calls or eat their lunch on the go (among other things).
Hands-free devices compound the problem
Because cellular devices have become such a factor in distracted driving, “hands-free” has become the rule in many cities and states – but research indicates that may compound the problem when it comes to attempts to multitask. At least one study indicates that a significant portion of drivers who have hands-free devices end up simply adding a new task to their cognitive load. They may, for example, answer a call while driving and eating a sandwich. This means that instead of dividing their attention between two tasks, they’re actually handling three.
Unfortunately, the drivers who really need to receive this message probably won’t. When surveyed, 93% of people indicate that they’re as good or better at multitasking than the Average Joe – so they may not see themselves as a danger. That means that you need to be proactive about defensive driving. If you are in a wreck, learning more about your legal options can help you to safeguard your interests if defensive driving is not enough to avoid harm at the hands of a distracted driver.
Multitasking reduces situational awareness. You might miss important visual and auditory cues that help you navigate the road safely. This lack of awareness can lead to poor decision-making and risky behaviors.