Every year, thousands of people are killed and hundreds of thousands are injured because they, or other drivers, were chatting or texting from behind the wheel of an automobile. And the toll continues to rise, despite laws that place restrictions of the practice. Part of the reason lies in these two major misconceptions about the true nature of the problem:
Misconception #1: It’s safe to talk on a cell phone as long as it’s in hands-free mode.
BALONEY! Study after study has shown that keeping both hands on the wheel while talking does not reduce your accident risk one iota. That’s because (contrary to what dedicated “multitaskers” would have you believe) the human brain simply is not capable of fully concentrating on two things at the same time. Your gray cells have what scientists call a finite “cognitive load.” When you’re chatting on a phone, you’re using up a full 37 percent of your brain’s capacity to gather and process the kind of data you should be using to drive safely — regardless of what your hands are doing.
Misconception #2: Talking on a cell phone while driving is no different from conversing with a passenger in your car.
HORSE FEATHERS! In fact, passengers can actually increase your degree of road safety. The reason, researchers tell us, is that when other adults are in the car, conversation tends to flow according to the demands placed on the driver. Unlike people on the other end of a phone line, passengers can point out road conditions the driver might not notice. Plus, when the going gets dicey, drivers generally suspend chatter in a vehicle, but they do not tend to put callers on hold in similar situations.
When it comes to dangerous distracted-driving habits, texting tops the list. The folks who study automotive stats tell us that reading or writing a text message while you’re at the wheel increases your accident risk 23 times — or, to put it in more graphic terms, by 2,300 percent! That’s because, not only does it use at least as much of your brain’s cognitive load as a phone chat does, but it also takes your eyes away from the road. And if your peepers leave your driving path for just five seconds when you’re going 55 miles an hour, you travel the length of a football field without seeing where you’re going — or what may be coming at you.