What happens to your brain when you multitask and drive

Multitasking is a skill that is highly sought all around the world. Its ability to do things simultaneously compresses the time required to complete a set of tasks, which is a huge 'turn-on' in the corporate world. However, multitasking is a huge no-no when you are driving.

The brain, according to psychological studies, isn't designed to process many tasks at once – especially when driving. Driving takes a toll on you as you have to multitask as all of your senses except for smell have to be on point all the time. You have both hands on the steering wheel, and you use your right to shift gears from time to time (in manual transmission), while your feet control 2 or 3 pedals. All of these happen at the same time as your mind works and adding another task is considered to be a distraction.

Before we get into how your brain functions while you drive, we first need to understand how it works on a normal basis. So here is a bit of a crash course for you. Your brain has 4 lobes that have respective functions: frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. The Frontal lobe handles emotional regulation, while the Parietal lobe is responsible for coordinating visual and tactile perception. The Occipital lobe handles the visual response, and the Temporal lobe is for the auditory.

Of note, when you're behind the steering wheel, the Frontal lobe acts as your warning apparatus against impending danger as it alerts your reflexes. The Parietal lobe acts as your gauge on how hard you hit the brakes, or how far you steer during an emergency. The Occipital lobe process everything you see around to know where to steer. Lastly, the Temporal lobe gives you alertness based on what you hear.

Drinking and driving

Driving a car does put a bit of a strain on your brain. It has different regions that are functioning to keep you alert and responsive. Doing another activity while all of these are happening could result in an overlapping of information sent from the brain to the body, which then results in confusion and incautiousness – most commonly referred to as distracted driving. 

In data from Ford Philippines, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) discovered 4 major categories of driving distractions: visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive.

Each category has its own 'triggers,' which most drivers couldn't resist when they happen. Triggers are the elements that cause the driver from doing his primary task (driving) to a secondary task simultaneously like using a mobile phone or eating.

Texting while driving

While your eyes should be focused on the road ahead, certain visual distractions can turn you into a hazard. These take the form of mobile phones, public billboards, and other elements that require a sense of sight. Visual distraction triggers are categorized into 2, internal and external triggers. Internal triggers are distractions that are inside the car (e.g. mobile phones), while external triggers are distractions outside the car (e.g. public billboards/advertisements).

Auditory distractions

Did you know that even your radio and infotainment system can distract you? Playing music while on a road trip is pretty kind of refreshing, especially when it’s a long-destination trip. However, playing loud music might confuse your brain and make it hard to concentrate from driving. Other than that, playing full-blast audio inside an enclosed vehicle cabin temporarily impairs your sense of hearing, making it hard to recognize emergency sirens and other traffic-related sounds. With that said it's best to keep your volume at a reasonable level so that you can hear what's going on around you. 

There are no acceptable reasons for the driver to eat, text, or change clothes while the car is moving, simply because these require the help of the hands. Manual distractions are activities that cause divers to take their hands off of the steering wheel.

If you happen to feel the urge to reply to a text message or get hungry, it would be best to find a spot where you can pull over.

Have you ever been mentally occupied that you bump into someone while you were walking down the street? This scenario falls under this category, and it could be worse when you are driving a car. Cognitive distractions happen when a driver's concentration is compromised. 

An example would be when a driver gets caught in an ongoing conversation on the phone and loses attention on the road. Other things that affect a person's cognition are medications, drowsiness, and anxiety attacks. 

Distracted driving by numbers 

According to data released by the US Department of Transportation, 94% of fatal motor accidents are caused by driver error. 37% of these accidents involve drivers who were talking on a mobile phone. This is one of the reasons why car manufacturers are integrating Bluetooth and/or smartphone-to-car connections like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibilities.

Recently in the Philippines, a bill has been passed into law concerning the current local status of distracted driving. Named the Anti-Distracted Driving Act (ADDA), the law regulates the use of mobile phones and other distracting materials during driving. It seeks to lessen the total count of accidents that are believed to be caused by driver errors.

While multitasking can be practiced on other things that have far less or zero fatal consequences, it would be better to make driving an exception. Driving requires your full attention and alertness. So, please do yourself a favor and don't multitask, just drive.

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