Texting while driving

  • Published
  • By 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Safety Office
  • 432nd Wing
According to a 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, there were over 448,000 motor vehicle crashes that involved driver distraction, and 38 percent of those were caused by people texting while driving.

Although cell phone usage has improved our accessibility, it has also proven our physiological inability to multi-task.

The human brain is hard wired with two mental processors which serve two very different purposes. These processors are simply known as the conscious (slow thinker) and sub-conscious (fast thinker) mind.

The result is human beings quickly memorize mundane tasks, and quickly turn it over to the subconscious mind for completion. The subconscious mind itself is a marvel, processing over 400 billion bits of information per second versus the conscious mind's ability to process only 40 bits per second. Driving the same distance and direction daily (such as the commute to and from base) allows the brain to "legally" assign this task to the subconscious mind.

The problem with this scenario is the subconscious mind operates so fast that it does not consider risks and totally ignores the obvious such as stop signs, red lights, and even crossing pedestrians. On the other hand, the conscious mind is extremely slow, but is also extremely accurate. It does not allow human beings to make decisions without considering risks and potential outcomes.

Unfortunately, the conscious mind trades time for accuracy, as it takes an unstressed individual approximately 5.5 seconds to make a conscious decision, and even longer when placed in a stressful situation.

Imagine you are driving home after a long night at work when you receive a text message from your teenage son. You read the text and you may even respond, but this requires conscious processing. You quickly glance up and down, from the screen to the road, and back again in an effort to decipher this all-important message. After the second or third glance to the road, you realize you have veered into the median, and your vehicle slams the concrete barrier.

Why did this happen? It's easy, your subconscious mind assumed the tasks of driving when your conscious was trying to interpret the text message. Of course, your subconscious did not take into account that the road curves and it directed your body to "go straight home, like always." This is a common occurrence and is the reason for most texting while driving accidents.

Bottom-line, do not text while driving! Yes, you have gotten away with it a few times before, but you will eventually look up and find it's too late to avoid the concrete barrier, or the roadside construction worker. If a text requires your immediate attention pull off the road, put your car in park and respond as necessary. Or, simply make your "crucial" contacts before leaving for home.