I overheard a short exchange between my three kids several years ago. My daughter is my youngest, her brothers just a few years older than her, and she must have been no more than 5 years-old at the time.
My daughter: “You don’t know how to handle dad. I’ll handle him for you.”
Her brothers: “How?”
“You go into his office when he’s really busy and ask for it. He’ll say yes because he wants you to go away. Then you leave. Grown-ups don’t go back on their words”.
“She hates overruling dad”.
Outwitted by preschoolers! My daughter figured out how to use distracted decision making to her advantage, and we grown-ups are dumb enough to believe we’re great multi-taskers.
My husband is a huge multi-tasker. He’s actually not bad at it. But even he’s not as good as he thinks, and definitely not good enough for my daughter.
And all this could be quite funny if this over confidence in our ability to engage in more than one thing didn’t cost so many lives.
Here are a few facts, courtesy of Distracted.gov, the “Official US Government Website for Distracted Driving” (I‘m sure they didn’t mean it that way—they must be against distracted driving…):
• In 2008, almost 20 percent of all crashes in the year involved some type of distraction (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - NHTSA).One would think that common sense and a few statistics would be enough to prevent us from fumbling with an electronic device while driving, but that ain’t so.
• Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured (NHTSA).
• The younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
• Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
• Using a cell phone while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent (Source: University of Utah).
So, thirty states have put into law bans on texting while driving. It’s a welcome, rational step, but unfortunately instead of turning the device off it has led overconfident drivers to put the device lower in their lap, where it can’t be seen by police.
Self-confidence is a beautiful thing. Cockiness enables people — even young kids — to occasionally do unbelievable things. But when it comes to driving it’s a huge mistake to believe that you’re an above average driver. First of all because you’re not – statistically speaking it’s unlikely – and besides, handling heavy machinery at high speed is not an innate human skill, and even if you’re better than most you’d better be humble. We’re incredibly attuned to some things in our surrounding – I believe many of us can hear an infant‘s cry even with a lot of background noise – but not to the unexpected dangers of the road. To be a decent driver we need both hands and our head as engaged as much as humanly possible.
A crop of new apps and gadgets surface daily since the no-texting bans were signed into law. Some are no more than clever ways to stay within the letter of the law while providing new – equally distracting – ways to text, email and call while driving.
If you feel you have to have an app for that here’s what you should look for: an app that helps you stop using the phone. Even SAFECELLapp, which rewards drivers with cash for not using their phone when the app is turned on and the car’s moving, is much more distracting than simply turning the device off.
What if someone needs to reach you? They’ll reach you later, or find another solution. The world worked just fine fifteen years ago, when most kids could not reach mom at all times and executives weren’t constantly plugged.
It’s hard to pay attention
I could have added, for visual effect, scary footage of accidents. I won’t. Instead, let’s do a little experiment. Please don’t peek at the end of the post before you complete the video.
If you’ve heard about this experiment before, you’d have known what to expect, but when this video is shown in a controlled situation, 50 percent of people don’t see the gorilla, even though the gorilla is there for 9 seconds, and thumps its chest in the middle of the screen. If you still believe you can multitask and pay attention to more than one thing at a time I recommend Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ “The Invisible Gorilla” – a fascinating read.
Please, just think about this: Would you feel comfortable if your kids’ school-bus driver texted while driving?
I welcome your comments,