It’s Time to Bust the Multitasking Myth

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

In recognition of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the safety professional in me needs to shed light on one of the biggest lies drivers tell themselves. But first, the writer in me needs to clear up a couple of unrelated misconceptions about the written word. Trust me; this will all tie to together shortly:

  1. Regardless of what you think, irregardless is not a word.
  2. When we say, “I could care less,” we’re saying we care at least a little. If we didn’t care at all, we couldn’t care less. Make sense?
  3. When it comes to writing, white space is actually a good thing. Communicate your message clearly, using as few words as possible.

Thanks for humoring me. It seems my line between editor and safety guy is still a bit blurry. Now that I got that off my chest, I can get on with the business of distracted driving.

At some point, probably decades ago, someone decided that there simply was not enough time in the day to accomplish everything on their plate. Perhaps it was an exhausted parent juggling work, kids and “me time.” Or a medical student looking to ferret out a precious 30 minutes of study time.

After laboring over schedules and scrutinizing every minute, someone landed on an answer that was right under their nose the whole time. If it had been a snake, it would have bitten them: Why not take advantage of all that “down” time behind the wheel?

And that was the origin of the great multitasking myth.

Despite what most of us believe, the human brain cannot multitask. In our defense, it’s easy to see why we’ve been duped into thinking it can. After all, our brains handle walking and chewing gum at the same time pretty well. Why would driving and talking on a cell phone be any different?

It turns out that walking is a thinking task, and chewing gum is a non-thinking task. Thinking and non-thinking tasks use different parts of the brain. So, we have no trouble doing both simultaneously.

Driving and talking on a cell phone, conversely, are both thinking tasks. As such, they rely on the same part of the brain. When faced with this dilemma, the brain “toggles” between tasks, dividing our attention and putting us and other drivers at risk.

Technology is not the only culprit in the distracted driving epidemic. Long before cell phones, MP3 players and GPS, drivers found ways to pass time behind the wheel. Whether we were tending to our kids in the back seat, drumming on our steering wheel or eating lunch on the way to a meeting, we were not focused on the task at hand.

I know I promised to bring this post full circle, so here it goes:

  • Regardless of what you think, your brain cannot multitask.
  • Insurance companies and regulatory agencies could care less about distracted driving. Actually, they care a lot. And that’s why they are working hard to end the epidemic.
  • Lengthy, detailed driving safety policies and programs have their place, but don’t forget about the value of short, impactful messages to your employees: “Calls Kill,” “One Text or Call Could Wreck it All” and my personal favorite, “Talk. Text. Crash.”

Participate in National Distracted Driving Awareness Month April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a time for employers, workers, parents and teens to talk about the importance of staying focused behind the wheel. To get involved, visit these sites:

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