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Some Forms Of Distracted Driving More Dangerous Than Others

The laws against texting and driving that have swept the nation in recent years draw a distinction between the distraction offered by text messaging and the distractions that have long been part of the driving experience. A new study has shown some distractions are, in fact, more dangerous than others in terms of causing car accidents. The study also demonstrated that people often do not realize how much their driving suffers when they split their attention between tasks.

The study, conducted at Ohio State University, focused on the impact different types of multitasking. The results showed that attempting to do two visual tasks, such as driving and typing out a text message, resulted in a much poorer performance in both tasks than attempting a visual task and an audio task, such as talking on the phone. Despite the significant gap in performance, study participants actually believed they did better when two visual tasks were combined. This shows that many people are overconfident about their ability to multitask visually. That overconfidence could explain why so many people are willing to text while driving, despite the studies proving that doing so is comparable to drinking and driving in terms of overall impairment.

While visual multitasking did prove more dangerous than multitasking between visual and audio tasks, both caused a massive drop in the participants' performance. All forms of multitasking are dangerous when one of the tasks being completed is the operation of a motor vehicle. Even a few moments of inattention can have fatal results at 55 miles per hour.

Lawmakers and safety experts are struggling with ways to reduce the accidents caused by distracted drivers. While many acknowledge the dangers, few would place texting and driving on par with drunk driving. It is still much more socially acceptable to send a text while operating a car than it is to drive drunk. That attitude may be the primary obstacle to decreasing the fatalities caused by distracted driving.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Why Some Types of Multitasking Are More Dangerous Than Others," 27 July 2012

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