Thursday, March 6, 2014

Distracted driving: 'Multitasking is a myth'

At its core, the problem of distracted driving revolves around the ability, or inability of humans to do more than one thing, competently, at the same time.
As Robyn Robertson, the president of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation notes, “Multitasking is a myth, but we often convince ourselves that we are capable of it. Humans are serial processors of information and they are only capable of consciously focusing on one task at a time.”


Nothing less than “a complete overhaul of the culture of driving is necessary because technology is now so complex,” says Angelo DiCicco, GTA director of Young Drivers of Canada and an instructor for 28 years. “I increasingly view my role as being the interface between technology and the driver: to ensure that technology is a help not a hindrance.”That, in essence, would seem to be the “nut” of driver distraction. The challenge extends beyond personal electronic devices to vehicles hardwired with myriad interactive equipment.
A recent study by the Canadian Automobile Association claims it takes 33.6 seconds to reply to a text, 10.6 seconds to answer a cellphone, 26.7 seconds to adjust a GPS. Doesn’t seem like an eternity does it? Well, think again. According to Canadian Global Road Safety research, 80 per cent of all collisions occur when drivers look away for three seconds, or less. That being the case, does it surprise anyone that CAA stats claim folks text messaging are 23 times more likely to crash, or those talking on a cellphone are five times more likely to crash.
Provincial governments across Canada have responded by banning the use of hand-held PEDs while driving, and Ontario Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo generated attention last week by arbitrarily raising the penalty for distracted driving to $280 and refusing comment on the decision. Police chiefs in British Columbia, citing 91 deaths annually from distracted driving, recently called for fines to be doubled. “Everybody does it. There is so much of it, you can’t say one generation does it more than another,” said Corporal Robert McDonald of the RCMP’s E Division Traffic Services.
The Ontario Provincial Police launches a new distracted driving campaign this weekend that runs until March 14, and police say officers will be raising awareness and focusing enforcement on the problem.
Distracted driving is becoming Public Enemy No. 1 for the simple reason that it’s causing mayhem on our roads. It is a factor in more than four million motor vehicle crashes in North America alone. A recent Insurance Board of Canada report argues that drivers talking and texting on their cellphones are just as impaired as someone who is legally drunk, i.e. with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08.
Arguably the leading figure examining the “science” of driver distraction is David Strayer, of the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Lab. Among his conclusions is cellphone use in a car results in a condition called “inattention blindness.” “One of the things we know when people are talking on a cellphone is they get kind of tunnel vision, they don’t see information on the periphery … so if there’s a car, or a pedestrian, something like that, they just don’t see it …about half the visual information is removed.”