The Multi-tasking Fallacy and Inattention Blindness
Many individuals pride themselves in their ability to multi-task. In reality, only about 2% of the population is actually good at multi-tasking. A study by the University of Utah found that people who think they are great at multitasking are the least likely to be good at it and persons who talk on the cell phone the most while driving are the least capable of multi-tasking.6
Multi-tasking leads to inattention blindness. Estimates indicate drivers using cell phones look at but fail to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment.7 Cognitive distraction contributes to less attention to the environment, where all the information the driver sees is not processed.8 This may be due to how our brains compensate for receiving too much information by not sending some visual information to the working memory. When this happens, drivers are not aware of the filtered information and cannot act on it.9
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), which regulate commercial vehicles operating in interstate travel prohibit handheld phones, texting, or other manual phone interaction (§392.80 and §392.802). The regulations allow for “one-touch” initiating or ending of a call and the phone must be within easy arms reach of the driver. Most state DOTs have incorporated this rule for intrastate driving as well. The FMCSR define a commercial vehicle as:
- Having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating (including trailer) of more than 10,000 pounds or more.
- Designed to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation
- Designed to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
- Used in transporting hazardous materials under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in quantities requiring placarding.
Your Position on Cell Phone Use
While driving hands-free, a cognitive distraction still exists. A NHTSA study also found that drivers using “hands-free” systems regularly handle the phone anyway, minimizing the benefit.10 Some drivers feel it is OK to make handsfree calls because it is not against the law and therefore may talk for longer periods of time, increasing the cognitive distraction duration.
Organization policies should prohibit any cell phone use while driving, except in the event of emergencies. An exception could also be made for calls that impact a driver’s trip. For example, it might be acceptable to contact a driver on a multi-hour trip to let them know their appointment is cancelled. Drivers should still pull off to a safe place to take the call or to return the call, if missed.
A clear no-phone use policy, including no hands-free use, is a best practice. However, if you have no intent of enforcing a no-phone use policy you should not make it a rule as it could be used against you in an accident (failure to follow your own policy). As an alternative to a no-phone policy, something similar to the following can be considered.
- Hands-free business calls may be made or accepted on a limited basis and of a limited duration if they are of an urgent nature and pulling over to a safe parking area is not practical.
- Drivers are encouraged to refuse calls if driving conditions involve hazards like heavy traffic, construction zones, and inclement weather.
- Initiation or acceptance of hands-free calls should be limited to one touch.
If choosing to allow limited hands-free calling it should be actively managed. Managers need to lead by example and encourage drivers to hang up and call when safely parked if the call topic does not meet the urgent nature of the organization’s policy.
Distracted Driving Prevention and Monitoring Technology
Many organizations are taking a proactive approach and utilize technological measures to control and monitor cell phone use. These solutions range from simple do-not-disturb-while-driving settings on a phone, to full software or telematics solutions that can lock down all phones or monitor phone use. Click here for a more detailed overview of how this technology can benefit your organization.
Our Distracted and Inattentive Driving Infographic addresses many of these key topics and can assist with driver education and training. Use it:
- As an awareness piece for poster boards or driver mailings.
- As a training topic in driver safety meetings or toolbox talks.
- As a guide for managers when conducting safety ride-alongs with drivers.