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Distracted Drivers: Study finds ‘multitasking’ puts lives at risk

Distracted driving extends far beyond cell phones: There’s a whole other group of activities that can cause British Columbians to be distracted behind the wheel.

So says BCAA community engagement director Shawn Pettipas. He tells Vista Radio it involves doing more than one thing when driving, which some refer to as “multitasking.”

“But what we do know is that there’s no real such thing as multitasking behind the wheel – it’s being distracted,” Pettipas explains.

“You do need to focus on your primary role which is driving, but things like adjusting climate control, enjoying the scenery, scanning for street signs and numbers, checking your phone at a red light, or eating and drinking behind the wheel are all things that are distractions and not multitasking.”

recent study from BCAA found a large chunk of respondents (93 per cent) considered themselves “focused” drivers, while nearly one in four (22 per cent) admitted to having been in an accident or near-miss due to distracted driving.

“What that’s telling us is that many drivers across British Columbia have a bit of a blind spot on how they’re defining distraction because it’s more than just cell phone use,” Pettipas says.

Distracted driving is the second leading cause of fatal collisions in B.C., Pettipas notes. And with this in mind, he wants B.C.’ers to understand their driving habits to better protect everyone on the road, including other drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

“Every day in our life, we multitask and it’s become an expectation. But behind the wheel, we need to focus on the one thing at hand… and that’s being a safe driver,” Pettipas adds.

“We want to break that myth that multitasking behind the wheel is a good thing. There’s no such thing as multitasking… it’s really about are you distracted or are you not. The human brain can really only do one thing well at a time, so when you add all these other things in, you’re taking away from what your core focus should be.”

While Pettipas understands the challenges of focusing behind the wheel, he points to some practical things we can all do to focus:

  • Set boundaries: alert anyone who may be in touch that you’re driving and unreachable. Set “I’m driving” auto messages and store your device where you can’t see or access it.

  • Use a co-pilot: recruit passengers to help you focus. Put them in charge of anything that could distract you. Let them adjust the stereo or climate controls, find street addresses, and minimize engrossing conversations.

  • Plan ahead: look up addresses and directions before you set off. Set your playlist. Eat before or after you drive or plan where you’ll stop to grab a bite. Harness your dog. Set your kids up with entertainment.

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