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Multitasking while driving- good idea?

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  • Multitasking while driving- good idea?

    David Allen has published a paper on his website called "Making Good Use of Car Time" describing all the things you can do while driving.

    I think it is worth discussing the idea that multitasking while driving may increase your risk of being in an accident. This has been a somewhat controversial area, especially regarding cell phone use, but the facts are piling up. There is good evidence that use of a cell phone while driving slows reaction time and increases accident risk a significant amount-- to the same degree as being intoxicated (at the common legal DWI limit of 0.08% blood alcohol content). This applies to hands-free devices as well as hand-held phones.

    Obviously, being in an accident, especially one with injuries, is no way to increase productivity. And I doubt Allen would ever condone drinking and driving to enhance productivity (no waiting for a cab from the bar), so I am skeptical of his recommendations here.

    I am not trying to troll here. I am a big GTD and DA fan. This just seem odd to me. When I am in the context of the driver's seat of a 1.5 ton guided missle, there is only one thing on my next actions list. Let's keep our focus on the road and stay safe.

  • #2
    driving is multitasking.

    I used to dictate brief reports while driving, but I decided it is too close to cell phone talking. It requires thinking and focusing. Attention to ones own thoughts and words has a cognitive pull which can only degrade perception and attention to the sounds, visual input, and other sensations that must get your attention and be processed and reacted to at the right time for good driving. The cogntive pull can become an emotional pull if the topic has that element.

    I think the issue is not multi-tasking, which driving is in itself, but rather divided attention.

    I have seen research quoted that also says that for a few minutes after talking on a cell phone, a driver is at higher risk for being in an accident. This happened to me, and although I was not at fault in terms of who it whom, I wonder if something that I may have done or not done, might have subtly have miscued the other driver.

    So how to use drive time: listening, somewhat passively (there is a place for that), and not through head phones or ear buds.
    Last edited by Jamie Elis; 05-10-2007, 07:58 AM. Reason: spelling


    • #3
      I agree with the safety argument.
      On the other hand, if your daily commute includes a 30 min standstill because of traffic congestion, I think it is feasible to multitask while standing still.

      Still need to take care when traffic starts moving again, of course!


      • #4
        I currently have a long-ish commute (35-40 minutes each way), and I do try to make good use of the time. My "multitasking while driving", if you can call it that, essentially entails listening to podcasts, audiobooks on my "to read" list, and other passive-type activities. If I'm stuck at the railroad crossing waiting for a train, I might take a quick skim down my @errands list to see if there's anything that I need to take care of at lunch or on the drive home, or make a QUICK phone call if it absolutely can't wait. You may be able to talk on your cell phone and drive--I can't, so I don't.


        • #5
          I think that part of the problem with cell-phones, specifically, is the way we are hard-wired to take social cues during the subconscious portion of evaluating whether a situation is "dangerous" or not.

          If a car suddenly swerves in front of you, but the person you are talking with continues without the slightest reaction, then your sub-conscious "danger detection" system is confused by the mixed signals. The reaction doesn't happen until your conscious mind catches up with what's going on (at which point it becomes obvious that you either need to break, take evasive action, or both, depending on the situation).

          The conscious mind is still just as aware of sudden danger as without the cellphone-- but the (much faster) subconscious mind is not, which slows reaction time considerably.


          • #6
            One of the dangerous things about driving and multitasking is that 99% of the time, the task of driving is extremely easy and even boring. The problem is that other 1% of the time that comes up suddenly and we have to be alert for it. It is really tempting to be lulled by that 99%.

            For a short while when I first started commuting to work, I used to put my tie on while driving and also eat on the way to work. It didn’t take me long to realize I was asking for trouble and I stopped. Over the years I have witnessed a couple of bad rush hour accidents including a roll-over into the oncoming side of the freeway and also quite a number of really close calls.

            I think David Allen’s list of things to do while driving would be better used by those who commute by train or bus.


            • #7
              I agree with Barry. We in Las Vegas are supposed to have the highest auto insurance rates in the U.S. My guess is it's due to the "gawker" factor of people looking at lights on the Strip. People also blow through stop signs and red lights like there is no tomorrow. Over the weekend, a young man of 19 was intoxicated and blew through a four-way stop. He ended up killing five people...wiped out an entire family.

              Like others, ideas also pop into my head while driving and it would be nice to have a collection tool that I could use while keeping both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. Perhaps some voice activated recorder?

              Until I find that device, I don't do anything unless I'm at a stoplight. Once the car starts moving, all GTD-related activities stop.


              • #8
                Several studies have shown that "multitasking" is more accurately described as "continuous partial attention." You don't focus on two (or more things) at once, you shift your attention between the two. Attention shifting becomes more difficult as the two tasks become more complex.

                The nature of driving is, as Barry said, that it's completely routine and boring, until it's not. If your attention is shifting between your phone call and the road, you (and the drivers around you) could be in deep trouble if the road suddenly requires your full attention. Especially if it does so at a stressful moment during your phone call.

                While sitting in nearly stopped traffic isn't hard, driving in slow but heavy traffic can be very difficult as people weave in and out and jockey for position. Nearly stopped can also become dangerous very suddenly, when whatever caused the blockage clears and everyone stomps on the accelerator.

                So I agree with Barry that DA is wrong on this one. Rather than trying to be productive while driving, a better idea might be to figure out more productive ways to get where you're going. Use public transit and you can spend as much time on the phone as you want. Shift your work hours, and you might be able to cut your driving time in half. Telecommute, and you can sleep later and still get to work earlier.



                • #9
                  The few times I've been dumb enough to try to use my cell phone, Palm or iPod while driving have convinced me that it's really unsafe. Most of the things you look at while driving -- rear-view mirrors, dashboard displays -- are designed to be take in at a glance -- you can take a quick look, for a fraction of a second, and then get back to watching the road. Any handheld device, with its tiny display and controls, takes several seconds to use -- it is NOT designed to let you work it at a glance. Not to mention the amount of time it takes your eyes and brain to shift from far-focus to near-focus and back. Two or three seconds of taking your attention off the road to work some gadget is plenty of time for an accident to develop.

                  When I'm driving I can usually tell which drivers are using a cell phone -- they're the ones who drive like they're drunk!

                  Here in NYC it is illegal to drive and use a cell phone but I've never heard of the law being enforced -- most of the drivers you see are talking on cell phones. Nonstop.


                  • #10
                    This is why I'm glad I take the train to work