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Is Texting While Driving One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Multitasking?

The discussion of distracted driving has grown in the last few years - from state billboard campaigns to national public service advertisements. But along with the discussion comes a lot of statistics and perhaps a fair amount of misconceptions.

According to Distraction.gov, distracted driving accident cases in 2010 were to blame for 416,000 individuals injured and 3,092 individuals killed on the road. An even more startling fact is that when individuals under the age of 20 were involved in a fatal crash, 11 percent of them reported being distracted during the incident.

Before text messaging became the craze it is today, drivers used cell phones to talk while behind the wheel. And the discussions around distracted driving did not seem to be as prevalent - but was it because there actually weren't as many accidents related to distracted driving? Or were we just not talking about it yet?

Compared to texting and driving, talking on a cell phone while driving is less distracting when it comes to multitasking, but it still remains a distraction - a distraction that could get a driver and others injured or even killed. Any form of multitasking beyond the wheel is not a good idea: drinking, eating, grooming, messing with music, etc.

Some people are overconfident about their ability to multitask, particularly when it comes to texting while driving. However, a study conducted at Ohio State University by Zheng Wang, proves that trying to combine two such actions is not a good idea. The study showed that performing a visual and audio task simultaneously caused a 30 percent drop in the ability to do any one task well. Further, and more striking, is that performing two visual tasks, equivalent to texting while driving, resulted in a 50 percent drop in overall ability.

The reason, according to the study, that drivers feel they excel at multitasking is that they have an illusion of efficiency through being able to process several bits of information in their visual channel. But the truth is that people pay much less attention to the task at hand (driving), often resulting in a distracted driving accident and a crash risk 23 times higher than driving without distractions.

The bottom line: multitasking behind the wheel is dangerous, especially when it comes to texting and driving.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Why Some Types of Multitasking Are More Dangerous Than Others," 7/27/12.

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