Your Brain
+ distracted

We all think we are great multitaskers, but research shows otherwise.

Risky multitasking, such as texting while driving (yes, even if using Siri), is one of the most dangerous ways we choose to divide our attention and engage in tasks where our undivided attention is most required.

Attention to a task [ driving in particular ] requires that we engage ourselves


[ with our thoughts ]


[ with our eyes ]


[ with our hands ]

Distracted driving occurs when we disengage in one or all of these ways; in other words, when we attempt to divide our attention.

Why is this?

A basic understanding of brain function may be helpful here.
In order to attend to a task, we need to engage several parts of the brain:

Frontal Lobe Thinking, planning, organizing, problem solving, emotions, behavioral control and personality.
Motor cortex Controls movement.
Sensory cortex Handles sensations.
Parietal lobe Processes movement of visual stimuli and integrates sensory input
Temporal lobe Processes memory, language and understanding.
Occipital lobe Handles vision.

As we “share” tasks between parts of the brain, activity in one part will decrease as activity in another part increases; so as we focus on a conversation, for example, activity in the parietal lobe will decrease (by as much as 37% says a study by Carnegie Mellon University) in order to do so. Specifically, their study showed that, in a task where study participants were listening to a cellphone conversation, this portion of the brain that is responsible for integrating information having to do with sight, sound, smell, and other sensory input and is critical for navigation showed a 37% decrease in activity! Further, activity was decreased in the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information as well (the occipital lobe).

Inattention blindness is another factor in driver distraction. This is a psychological issue resulting from lack of attention to an unexpected stimulus; we fail to see something right in front of us because we are focusing on something else.

This happens all the time in driving; another car braking suddenly in front of us, a pedestrian crossing outside the crosswalk, debris blowing across our path. Inattention blindness occurs because of cognitive capture. This is where the individual is too focused on the task at hand, which can be anything from being lost in internal thought, or of course, a cellphone conversation. We look at something, but do not see it.

response time when texting

what about
hands-free devices?

[ 8 out of 10 drivers believe that hands-free devices are safer ]

Nearly 70% of those that use hands-free devices do so for safety reasons.

[ Virtual assistance and talk to text ]

The rate of distraction is significantly influenced by the accuracy of voice recognition software. Systems with low accuracy and reliability generate a high level of distraction.

[ Locating and answering your cell phone ]

Even on a hands-free device is more than 4x more distracting than simply talking, according to a NHTSA study.

research has
shown that
devices may not
be much safer than
hand-held ones

cognitive distraction scale

While limiting all cell phone use may certainly be unrealistic, limiting calls is preferable, especially those that have highly emotional content.

One study demonstrated how emotional distraction in particular impaired performance that was task specific because emotional information tended to interfere with the cognitive resources necessary to process such information. Emotions impact perception of the environment as well as memory, attention, and of course, your driving. The areas of the brain most strongly impacted by emotion are the amygdala and the hippocampus.

Other public health studies show that driver cell phone use is four times (21% phone conversation, 4% texting) as likely to be associated with crash risk as other causes, and that there was no significant difference between handheld and hands-free cell phone use (National Safety Council, 2014).

What do the statistics say?

As of April 2014 there were 327,577,529 cellphones in use in the United States
Each Day 9+ killed / 1,153+ injured

people are injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in the U.S. (CDC, 2014)

Research comparing passenger vs cellphone conversations show that a conversation on a cellphone is more dangerous than a conversation with a passenger

3,328 in 2012
3,360 in 2011

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2014), 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, compared to 3,360 in 2011.

killed in crashes involving a distracted driver
387,000 in 2011

An additional, 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, a 9% increase from the 387,000 people injured in 2011.

421,000 in 2012

According to the CDC, 69% of drivers in the U.S. ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phones in the last 30 days while they had been driving


31% of these drivers reported they had read or sent text or email messages while driving

Please Don't Drive Distracted and become another statistic

Share this. It could end up saving someone's life.