April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. I know…we all know what causes distractions and we see distracted drivers every day. It amazes me the things that people do behind the wheel! Yikes! With that being said, I did not expect to read something today that would change my behavior when I am driving, but I did. Like millions of Americans, I talk on the phone while I am driving. (No, I never text…that is just plain craziness as far as I’m concerned!!) I have a hands-free connection in my car and I would say that at least half of the time I am alone in the car I am talking to someone on the phone. Does this sound like you? I do not expect to change your mind in this little article, but I do hope to intrigue you enough that you’ll read the research yourself. This information comes from the National Safety Council’s White Paper, Understanding the Distracted Brain, which includes references from more than 30 research studies. Here are a few of the things I found most interesting: Talking on a hands-free cell phone is not necessarily safer than a handheld. Hands-free technology allows you to drive with both hands on the wheel, but it is the actual carrying on a conversation that diverts your attention while driving. Our brain cannot multitask. It can process information quickly giving us the feeling that we are doing two tasks at the same time, but in reality our brain is switching attention between tasks. Driving and carrying on a conversation are both cognitively complex tasks which compete for our brain’s information processing resources. We believe that we’re aware of our surroundings, but our brain decides what information to process and what information to filter out. As a result, we don’t realize when we’ve given our brains too much to process at one time. Studies have found that drivers using hands-free phones had the perception that they were safe drivers, but in reality they showed decreased performance. The risk of being involved in an accident while using a cell phone while driving is about 4 times greater than when not using the phone. If you are like my office-mates, you may be wondering if there’s a difference between talking on the phone while driving and having a conversation with a passenger in the car with you. Actually, there is. Studies have shown that “a passenger tends to slow down the conversation if traffic seems hectic or challenging, as well as talks about the traffic conditions, keeping the driver’s mind on the road.” (Rowe & Hamilton 5/26/16) I for one now realize that I may not be as good at multitasking as I thought I was. That’s not to say that you’ll never see me carrying on a conversation while I’m driving, but I promise to do better. How about you?