Driving Distractions Are, Indeed, Distracting

from the who-knew? dept

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise (if at all), but as Slashdot points out, there are many driving distractions out there, and all can be potentially dangerous. The study found that it’s not just mobile phones, but eating or changing the radio station or even talking to others in the car. Basically, what the study found was that when there’s cognitive overload from too many tasks performed simultaneously, activities that are more core may squeeze out less developed processes. Thus, speaking and listening (which are learned at a young age) are likely to squeeze out more recently learned processes, such as driving.

While this isn’t at all surprising, what does it mean for the various attempts to legislate against driver distractions? Despite some attempts to ban distractions one by one, it’s never going to be possible to ban all driver distractions. You can’t make it illegal to talk to someone else in your car or even to change the radio station while driving (though, who knows…). The real issue shouldn’t be to focus on banning each and every driver distraction, but in educating drivers to the dangers they face with those distractions, making it clear that they need to be extra careful while engaged in any such activity, and that it’s best not to do any such thing in heavy or highly variable traffic. Yes, there will always be some folks who ignore this and assume they can drive just fine with these distractions — but those people would do the same thing even if the distractions were banned.

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Comments on “Driving Distractions Are, Indeed, Distracting”

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Anonymous of Course says:


In the state where I reside there is a law
against distracted driving. It’s been on
the books here for at leat 17 years.

Any additional laws for distractions like
eating or cell phones are unnecessary but
the law makers keep proposing and passing
them dispite the fact.

Pretty safe ground, passing laws against
something that’s already unlawful.

Freedom says:

Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

The problem we have in the US is that are speed limits are so low that it is impossible to stay focused on a task that is beyond boring (i.e. driving at 55MPH). Redesign the roads for faster speed limits (something like the Autobahn (sp?)) and you will have no more worries about cell phones, etc. as 100% focus will be on the road.

You can’t expect people to drive at an artificially low speed and not come up with other things to focus on to relieve the boredom.

Maybe there is a happy medium between the two extremes (i.e. way uber fast and 55MPH), but it is obvious that driving has become a brain dead activity – cell phones just give a better way for some to keep the brain stimulated.

Stop treating the symptom and cure the disease.


P.S. If you find 55MPH overwhelming, please stop driving now and turn in your license and stop driving!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

55mph on a straight and flat road may be a foolish maximum. Trust me, there are roads where 55mph is FAR TOO FAST to maintain reaction time with visibility concerns.

Likewise, there are times when any distraction will be welcome — but the problem with “laws” is it has to be a one-size fits all or it won’t be (as) enforceable. All drivers, all vehicles, all times of day for a given stretch of road. What may be fine at 2PM may have the sun in your eyes at 5PM or what have you, etc.

For those distracted drivers, remember your FIRST (and probably should be second and third at the same time) priority is the safety of yourself, your passengers and all the other persons and personal property you endanger by engaging in the propulsion of the large sized deadly object you are controlling. THEN, and only then, you can spare a few brain cells to bitch about how bad the weather is, what you intend to do about that check-out clerk the NEXT time they look at you in that way or who you seriously think would make a better sheriff of the town you live in, etc.

tubes says:

Re: Re: Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

I think he means you are one of those people that should stop driving. Dumb people shouldn’t be aloud to drive either!!

He said LIKE the Autobahn. Read about how the Autobahn works before you make a comment.


Even the Autobahn has speed restrictions but they are a lot more reasonable & a lot better then maximum 55 or 65 (75 if you live in the middle of nowhere out west) & no one pays attention to those speeds anyways. It just a way for cops to make more money.

Boost says:

Re: Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

Man, you fell off the stupd tree and hit every branch, didn’t you? Drivers get distracted because driving is boring so you want to let them go faster???

What you clearly don’t understand is that the autobahn has speed limits in most places, doesn’t look much differently than highways in America, and that we should not be driving faster than 65 for various reasons.

Not that I don’t think I’m capable of handling a car at 80+ MPH, but I know that most people in the world are not so capable with their hands on the wheel. Notably, there is an exponential increase in energy as you increase your speed. That means that your car may be able to stop from 60 in around 140 feet, but from 80 that number may be as much as 400 feet. Then if you factor in driver reaction time, it could take as much as 600 feet to stop a car moving at 80 MPH.

These same basic principles governing how a car comes to a stop also govern vehicle control as well. An emergency lane change carried out at 60 or 65 MPH is magnitudes easier to escape with your life than it is at 80 MPH. Now, I’m certain you’re going “well, then you can’t drive well then, get off my road.” If you think this way, you you need to take a car control class and learn for real.

Then there’s one final bit of advice before I go…aren’t you people all about saving the environment? Why aren’t you saving 20-30% more fuel by going the speed limit on the freeway?

There are, of course, many more things to consider when debating speed limits on the highways, but these are just a few things that I’m certain “Freedom” didn’t consider.

Fushta says:

Re: Re: Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

What some are forgetting is that the speed limits used to be higher. The reason they were changed in the 1970’s to 55 mph was to save fuel. Increasing the speed increases fuel consumption.

Expect another “lawmaker” to step up and propose a similar speed limit reduction to “save the children”, err Mother Earth, err gas prices.

Boost, if you’d ever driven on the Autobahn, lemme tell you…you are focused. Heart beating faster, Adrenaline pumping, knuckles white. Trust me, you won’t have time to take a drink from your beverage of travelling choice. BTW, most European cars don’t have cup holders. That’s a USA thing.

Boost says:

Re: Re: Re: Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

Yeah, I know how they drive on the Autobahn. American Drivers aren’t that focused. I drove a BMW the other day that has cup holders. But I do know what you mean about them. My Chrysler is the first car I’ve owned with cup holders. It only has two and they are rarely used.

By the way, if your knuckles are white, you probably aren’t relaxed enough to actually control the vehicle well. Bit of advice…relax a bit, but keep your focus.

burtman says:

Re: Re: Raise the Speedlimit - Problem Solved...

So in the US do people actually drive at the speed limit? In the UK the general driver speed seems to hover between 70-80 with many (myself included) routinely driving faster than that. With a limit of 70 even motorway patrols are unlikely to pull you over for going over 70 and under 80. In certain conditions I would say that it is relatively safe to drive at much higher speeds than the posted limit – subject to the correct conditions and paying careful attention. (relative being the operative word here – driving a metal box with four wheels at more than 10mph is never going to be entirely safe).

Anonymous Coward says:

Considering the number of times I’ve been nearly t-boned by some dipstick chatting on a cell phone I can see the need for a specific law regarding distracted use. For that matter they should add computers, navigation systems, and in-car video (yes, I’ve actually seen a candidate for the Darwin Award watching a porno on his visor while driving).

It is unfortunate but given human nature you typically have to create laws rather than relying on someone’s common sense.

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

Billboards are distracting but

I don’t see legislation pending to outlaw Billboards.

As pointed out in the article, distractions are always there.

Maybe this is a Darwin thing: multi-taskers that can handle the onslaught of distractions and still survive and thrive will live to rule the world.

I especially like the point about the artificially low speed limits can cause be even more distracting.
So true, allows the billboard longer time to linger on the mind. I know the amount of brain horse-power needed to drive 55mph on the interstate is mind-numbingly small. Longer time on the road more opportunity to get hit, more likely to succumb to sleep, day dream, lost in thought accident.

some old guy says:

Re: Billboards are distracting but

I don’t see legislation pending to outlaw Billboards.

You have NO IDEA how happy that would make me. I really hate those obnoxious ugly things clogging up my scenery while out on a trip. There’s this bridge I drive over on one of my monthly trips, it goes up over a river, and the view used to be AWESOME from the top of the bridge. But now, some jackass put up billboards ON THE SIDE OF THE DAMN BRIDGE so no you cant look out over the water, you have to stare at ugly billboards instead.

What a disgrace.

Jeff says:


I’m always surprised at how incapable government agencies make themselves out to be, while at the same time they purport themselves as the people who are there to protect you.

Rather than starting an annoying STFU-and-turn-off-your-radio-or-ticket campaign, how hard would it be to add a section to the driving test where your ability to concentrate is tested? Not hard at all…but, petition your local (state) revenue agency (revenue and the dmv always go hand-in-hand) and tell them about the idea. Or any idea like that. They’ll tell you how extremely impossible something like that would be to implement. Not to mention that it’s discriminatory…discriminatory against whom, I have no idea, I got hung up on before I could figure that out. I’ve actually had this conversation with a number of people associated with and working in the Dept. of Motor Vehicles here in Denver.

Pedro Mack says:


The problem with the catch-all distracted driving laws is that they are next to impossible to enforce. Why would a cop waste his time taking somebody to court for distracted driving, when there’s a good chance that the judge (or jury) won’t find that talking on the phone is necessarily a distraction. On the other hand, if a law is in place that clearly indicates that it is not legal to talk on a cell phone while driving, the same driver doesn’t have much of a case when he gets taken to court. That seems like it would make it much more likely that the case would be pursued. So, while I agree that it shouldn’t be necessary to ban each and every distraction in a piecemeal, one-at-a-time manner, and I definitely think education is essential in this area, making it easier to hold drivers accountable for being menaces on the road is good in my book.

Rose M. Welch says:

There are already...

…laws on the books that cover this. It’s called ‘failure to devote full time and attention’. I was pulled over once for not noticing that my headlights were off (very well-lit downtown area at night) while I was on my cell phone. My father-in-law, a police officer, has pulled people over for picking thier noses.

You might notice that police aren’t lobbying for additional laws – politicos eager to have thier name in the media are.

Biz Model (profile) says:

Education is the answer

The real issue shouldn’t be to focus on banning each and every driver impairment (alcohol, heroin, meth, PCP), but in educating drivers to the dangers they face with those distractions, making it clear that they need to be extra careful while engaged in any such activity, and that it’s best not to do any such thing in heavy or highly variable traffic.

Incredulous says:

Education may not be the answer...

…if the subject doesn’t have sense enough to realize that doing something stupid is stupid. You can’t legislate, or teach, common sense.

Unfortunately, survival of the fittest in this case takes out many of the fit who are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, i.e. on the receiving end of a high-speed rolling Darwinian device.

Incredulous says:

Re: Re: Education may not be the answer...

ANY driving instructor, whether a parent or in a formal course, should point out the obvious, that paying attention to the primary task at hand is the first and most important lesson to be learned. After that, it’s up to the individual to remember the basics.

I learned car control by driving on gravel roads in the 60’s. You learn to control skid and drift quickly, at relatively low speed, and the adrenaline rush of occasionally cleaning out a ditch gives it the kick a thrill-seeking teenager relishes. Unfortunately, there aren’t many gravel roads left.

Yuliy says:

One size does not fit all

The problem with trying to legislate this is that there are lots of different types of roads and traffic conditions out there. It’s one thing to be talking on a cell phone on a packed interstate in the middle of Dallas during rush hour. It’s a completely different thing to be talking on a cell phone in the middle of South Dakota on I-90 with straight road as far as the eye can see and nobody else within 1000 feet of you. Different amounts of concentration are required. In the former situation, keeping track of all that’s going on requires a lot more attention than in the latter, where all that’s required is keeping the car in the lane and letting the cruise control control the speed.

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