Friday, September 9, 2022

Look out! The risks of talking and driving

 The world is a hectic, busy, distracting place: unless you're on an old Royal Enfield motorcycle. 

That thought came to me on the ride home from yet another dental appointment today. 

Here I am. I know where I am. I know where I am going. I know the route. 

I know the stop lights on this route, the patterns they impose on traffic and where the cars always back up onto the road waiting to get into that one drive-through restaurant. 

Balance and steering are automatic, my throttle and gear shifting are nearly automatic. Vibration tells me my speed without even having to look at the speedometer. 

My old Bullet doesn't even have a gas gauge to look at. (I calculated that I had enough gas for this trip before I even got on the motorcycle.) 

The Royal Enfield motor is the only soundtrack playing inside my helmet. My phone is inside my hip pocket, inaccessible to me and frankly not wanted. 

All I have to do is pay attention, to the road and the vehicles around me. So I do.

The other drivers on the road may be driving distracted.

I wonder: if they are fiddling with their phones or in-car screens, are they more likely to keep going straight ahead? Why would they swerve? Either way, I'm watching.

On a motorcycle I know I can not afford to be wrong.

An SUV hesitates in a driveway. I see the hesitation. The driver is unsure. Distracted. Maybe he is listening to his passenger talking. Maybe what the passenger is saying is more important than the approaching motorcycle. Anything can happen. We make eye contact.

And, then, sure enough, he pulls across the road directly in my path. I am ready for it. I come to a complete stop as he moves slowly through his turn.

He saw me! Yet he put my life -- maybe his too -- in danger anyway.

When I got home I happened to pick up a newspaper article, originally from the Los Angeles Times, by Russ Mitchell. He spoke to cognitive psychologist David Strayer, who heads the Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving at the University of Utah.

Strayer has spent years telling us that people can not multi-task. Every added task subtracts from the mind share devoted to the main job at hand.

Driving, surprisingly, imposes relatively little load on the mind, probably the reason we believe that we can do other things at the same time. Trouble is, the added tasks are not so easy.

Brain scans show that conversation "uses a lot more of the parts of the brain than driving does," Strayer told the reporter.

The driver of the SUV that blocked me was doing too much. He suffered from cognitive overload. It didn't even take a smart phone or dashboard entertainment center to do it to him. "Just" an ordinary conversation with a passenger.

I drive a car, too. I listen to the radio, I let my mind wander; I talk to my passenger. And like any husband, I get annoyed when my wife pipes up with:

"Red light!" (I saw it.)

"You're too close!" (I am covering the brake.)

"Ignore the directions; go left!" (She's right. Ever notice how often Google is wrong?)

"Do Not Enter!" (Oops. I missed that one.)

You know what? I should be grateful. She's behaving like a good co-pilot and navigator, an extra set of eyes. That is the kind of passenger to have.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9/10/2022

    Rather than hands free the requisite for driving & cell phones needs be Ears Free.


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