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Splitting visual focus is uniquely dangerous for drivers

In our society, multitasking is often many people's preferred approach to work, to leisure time and to family life. Multitasking can be necessary at times and is often an approach that reaps benefits even beyond saving time. However, one place where multitasking proves dangerous rather than advantageous is behind the wheel.

Every year, an extraordinary number of fatal and otherwise devastating car accidents occur when motorists try to multitask and the distraction is ultimately too much to process. Though some individuals can handle multitasking better than others, each driver has a threshold at which he or she just cannot process driving safely alongside other distractions.

According to a recent study out of Ohio State University, certain kinds of multitasking are actually more hazardous for drivers than others. Specifically, combining visual and audio tasks is not as dangerous as combining multiple visual tasks.

This reality explains why texting and driving is inherently one of the most dangerous distractions a motorist can engage in. While attempting to focus on the road, drivers who split their focus to the visual images on their cell screens diminish their capacity to process both visual focus points.

Problematically, participants in the study perceived that their driving performance was superior when they multitasked visually than they did when they combined audio and visual tasks. On the contrary, their performance was much worse when they attempted the former.

The lead author of the study explained that, "Many people have this overconfidence in how well they can multitask, and our study shows that this particularly is the case when they combine two visual tasks."

The fact that distracted driving is dangerous is now well understood. Perhaps if individuals understand that they tend to be overconfident in their ability to multitask, they will think twice about assuming that they are individually capable of texting and driving safely.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Why Some Types of Multitasking Are More Dangerous Than Others," July 27, 2012

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