Distraction while driving has always been a safety concern, but the modern prevalence of smart devices like mobile phones has made distraction that much more of a safety issue. People have a hard time disconnecting while driving, despite knowing how dangerous it is to split their attention while they’re in control of a motor vehicle.
Even those who generally don’t handle their phones at the wheel may end up cognitively distracted when they hear notifications alerting them to incoming text messages or emails. Safety-conscious drivers know that they should not pick up their phones to read or respond to such incoming messages while on the road, but quite a few people grab their devices when they have to stop at a red light. Doing so actually isn’t as safe as many motorists assume, according to recent research.
Digital distraction causes a cognitive hangover
The reason that people think they can text at a stoplight or during a traffic jam is that they believe that the distraction caused by the phone only persists for as long as they have the phone in their hands. However, researchers have looked into how using a digital device affects someone’s focus and uncovered evidence to the contrary.
What they found is that someone remains at least partially distracted for roughly 27 seconds after they stop looking at and interacting with a mobile phone. Putting the phone down and then proceeding through the intersection will mean that someone continues driving while not fully focused on the road around them. It is far safer to simply wait until arriving at a destination to look at a phone and respond to any messages that came in during the trip.
Distracted driving is a major safety issue
One of the reasons that distracted driving is such a prevalent safety concern is that people seem to think they have ways to avoid or minimize distraction that won’t actually do what they think. Those using safety hacks like texting at an intersection or using voice-to-text software may be just as distracted as others in traffic or even more so because they overestimate their own capabilities.
Diligently avoiding distraction and watching for distracted drivers in traffic can reduce someone’s likelihood of causing or otherwise being involved in a serious wreck while driving. With that said, when accidents do occur, understanding the phenomenon of cognitive hangovers can potentially help injury victims to hold negligent drivers accountable for causing their harm.