MythBusters is a show that busts myths for fun. They’re not out to wag fingers at us. Instead, the show likes to disprove things we think are true and show that what we believe is wrong. Yet, MythBusters clearly showed that taking a simple cell phone call while driving led people to fail a driving test worse than a drunk driver.
Skeptical? Surely, using a cell phone in a car can’t be that dangerous. After all, you might see your car time as a great moment to catch up on phone calls. Here are a few facts and statistics to show why a cell phone dangerously distracts you when you drive.
“…taking your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of a crash.” (Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute)
The simple act of reaching for your phone, dialing a number, and putting your phone away after a call can drastically increase your risk of a crash. Sure, you can keep your eyes on the road while talking. But those few seconds when you’re looking for your phone and concentrating on dialing the right person are valuable seconds when your eyes need to be on the road.
“10% of fatal crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes” and “17% of injury crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.” (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
The end results of distracted driving are quite evident in these statistics. And distracted driving accidents are most likely under-reported. Either way, simply being distracted while driving causes many fatal crashes and injuries.
“Young drivers 18 to 20 have the highest incidence of crash or near-crash experience (23%) compared to all other age groups.” (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Cell phone-related distracted driving especially places younger drivers at risk. It’s natural for young people to live so much of their lives through their phones all day, and they expect to carry on that activity in a car. Because they are also inexperienced drivers, their inexperience and distracted driving create a deadly combination that makes it more likely that they will be involved in a serious accident.
Hands-free cell phones still lead to distracted driving. (National Safety Council)
While studies show that hands-free cell phones lessen distraction, they still increase your risk of an accident. Sure, you’re not reaching for a phone or dialing while driving. But science has shown that your brain has trouble multi-tasking. As the MythBusters episode showed, a phone conversation that requires any level of relatively complex thinking will distract you enough to remove your focus from the road. If you’re not focused on the road and instead focused on your phone conversation, you’re distracted enough to increase your risk of a crash.
“…the biggest problem is not the driver. The [AAA] study concludes that errors made by the voice systems cause the greatest distractions.” (AAA via CBS News)
In case you were wondering how hands-free cell phones distract you so much, it’s not just because you might focus more on the conversation than the road. The voice systems often don’t work perfectly. If they worked effortlessly, with as little thought as talking to a passenger in your car, then the danger would be lessened. But you have probably encountered voice systems that spit back wrong directions, give you incorrect information, and ask you to repeat your questions and commands. Once the errors occur, your mind starts focusing on solving this problem. You become distracted and focused on the voice system—not the road.
These warnings may sound impractical and restrictive, but more and more science and studies come out every year to show that distracted driving is truly a cause of many fatal and injury-related accidents comparable to drunk driving. When you’re driving, focus on the road. You can always have that conversation later—safe and injury-free.