Posted in on October 2, 2009

Driven to Distraction – Saving Time But Costing Lives

With the tightening economy and many jobs at risks, workers are feeling more and more pressure to be productive. One of the ways, especially for who spend most of their work day on the road, is to turn their cars into traveling offices. Equipped with laptops and BlackBerrys, a busy salesperson or entrepreneur is never out of touch. They have the means to respond to any crisis at their fingertips. Truckers, plumbers and delivery drivers can now receive instructions and directions to their next assignment in route. Productivity for those on the road is just a touch away.

But at what cost? Is the convenience of constant contact worth the risk? Studies have shown that a driver simply talking on the phone, even while using a hands-free device is four times more likely to crash than someone who is just driving. Studies show that drivers who are texting or checking email typically take their eyes off the road for about 5 seconds. Imagine what happens when you add using your computer, drinking cup of coffee, putting on makeup and other personal grooming tasks to the mix.

Researchers say there is only an illusion of productivity. According to David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan,

“To the extent that someone is focused on driving, the quality of work product is diminished,” he added, “To the extent someone is focused on work and not driving, there’s a risk of crashing and burning. Something’s got to give.”

Further study by Professor Meyer debunks the illusion of productivity, claiming the brain can only effectively perform one difficult task at a time. He found when a driver multitasks, important neural regions have to switch back and forth, taking extra time and thus creating inefficiencies.

Some families of victims killed in crashes involving multi-tasking drivers while on the job, have successfully sued the drivers’ employers. Now that it’s starting to hit them in the pocketbook with settlements to victims and their families and increased insurance premiums, some companies are now banning the use of cell phones and computers while on the job.

Katherin McArthur is a Georgia lawyer with experience suing companies whose employees have been in a collision while multi-tasking behind the wheel while on the job. “What I’m arguing in these cases is that these companies are authorizing something as bad as drunk driving and that they knew about the research or should have known,” she said. Ms. McArthur believes that as cell phone usuage and texting while driving continues to increase, that employers should expect more such lawsuits.

While it may feel more productive and you may even save a handful of minutes by multi-tasking behind the wheel, the families of the victims of collisions caused by multi-tasking drivers will tell you, that those few minutes you saved are not worth the life of their loved one.

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