Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Homo multitaskus?

Distracted driving – is this evolution in action, leading eventually to a new kind of human being, maybe called homo multitaskus? In the long run, will distracted driving become the norm?

Faced with a seemingly unending series of wrecks and fatalities involving motorists, truckers, bus drivers and train operators who were distracted by texting or talking on a cell phone, the U.S. Department of Transportation is making multitasking motoring a federal case. The DOT is calling a distracted driving summit to focus on the problem.

I raise my hand to say I do talk on the phone sometimes when I’m driving, lest someone accuse me of being holier than they. It’s rare for me to initiate the call. And, because I don’t talk to that many people on the phone anyway, I rarely get calls in the car.

Which I think makes me the exception. Recent studies examining the effects of texting or talking on the phone have spotlighted truckers, teenagers and a whole range of other drivers. Though their statistics vary when it comes to the likelihood of a collision, near-collision or traffic violation, one thing is clear: Trying to do something else while driving is a recipe for trouble.

And it’s not just the cell phone. Studies have shown that tuning the radio, adjusting the heater, eating, drinking, shaving, putting on makeup – you name it; if you’re doing it while at the wheel, you’re risking your life even more than usual. And that doesn’t include changing clothes, swatting kids or having sex.

The problem is, of course, how to enforce any kind of law regarding distracting activities. There’s evidence that hands-free phones, for instance, don’t help that much. The conversation itself can distract the driver. So passing those kinds of laws may look good back home, but not have that much of an effect in the long run. Personally, I find hands-free phone use no less of a distraction; in fact, the headset bothers me and muffles my ability to hear things around me.