March 31, 2019

Weekly Emails

Driving while distracted

Whether you drive an automatic or manual, here’s a game of driving that I like to play in order to stay hypervigilant, and I encourage you to play it: Imagine that someone on the road is trying to kill you today.

Read Time 2 minutes

According to the CDC, each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

In 2015, there were 35,092 motor vehicle deaths, just under 3,500 of which were deemed distracted driving deaths. Also, there were 391,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Globally, nearly 1.35 million people die in road crashes each year, according to the WHO.

Ironically, technology meant to decrease our distractions while driving is making us less attentive, argues a psychiatrist writing in the New York Times. Think about it. Most cars now have backup cameras and improved safety features that may be creating a heightened sense of security, while lowering our vigilance on the road. The author makes a plea to bring back the stick shift.

There are three main types of distraction:

  1. Visual: taking your eyes off the road;
  2. Manual: taking your hands off the wheel; and
  3. Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.

If you’ve ever driven a stick, think about how it impacts the big three above. From my own anecdotal report, it’s a lot more difficult to take my eyes off the road, my hands off the wheel and stick, and my mind off driving. (This pilot study suggests improved attention and driving performance in ADHD adolescent males.) My left leg and right hand are almost assuredly more occupied than driving an automatic. It’s a lot harder to text your buddy or eat your Big Mac when you’re behind the wheel of a manual transmission. Not that you should be doing these things at all when driving, regardless, but sometimes the environment can help nudge you toward better decisions.

Whether you drive an automatic or manual, here’s a game of driving that I like to play in order to stay hypervigilant, and I encourage you to play it: Imagine that someone on the road is trying to kill you today. They woke up with the stated purpose of killing you in your car by doing something stupid in theirs. The catch is, you don’t know who it is, but he’s out there. How are you going to drive?

– Peter

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  1. Since listening to your podcast with Mathew Walker when you (passionately) touched on the subject of text-watching whilst driving I have made a commitment to never read/text/check any messages on the road, regardless of in a traffic queue or red light. I gave myself a complete ban as I realise now that constant phone checking and responding had become a lazy arse habit that was rewarding my brain by releasing dopamine and oxytocin. Making a commitment to my own longevity, the wellbeing being of others and respect to our planet (I appreciate the world as it goes by instead) now gives me a bigger neuro-boost. You gotta keep an eye on it though!!

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