Miťrcoles 19 de Noviembre de 2008

Multitasking in the car
Is a car the right place for multitasking?

A graphic on the front page of USA Today shows that most people believe it is. The newspaper reports on a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance showing that 72 percent of drivers say they do other things while driving, like using a cell phone, eating or drinking.

Nearly 80 percent of people 18 to 44 say they multitask in the car. The numbers are slightly lower for the young and old. About 60 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds admit to multitasking, while 65 percent of adults 45 to 61 say they do it.

A few years ago the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near crashes. They found that nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. According to the agency:

The most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones. However, the number of crashes and near-crashes attributable to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening. Dialing is more dangerous but occurs less often than talking or listening.

Reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 9 times; looking at an external object by 3.7 times; reading by 3 times; applying makeup by 3 times; dialing a hand-held device (typically a cell phone) by almost 3 times; and talking or listening on a hand-held device by 1.3 times.

More recently, National Public Radio conducted its own multitasking experiment. Instead of putting a driver on the road, they put a professional pianist through a series of multitasking experiments.

A musician like Jacob Frasch has a lot in common with an experienced driver. Both can do a complex task that has become automatic while carrying on a simple conversation.

For over an hour, we tasked Frasch with playing a range of pieces, some he knew and some he had to sight-read. While he was playing, we asked him to multitask. Sometimes the additional work was simple. For instance, Frasch has no trouble talking about his childhood while playing a Bach minuet. But when the challenges took more brain power, it was tougher for Frasch to answer questions and play the piano at the same time.

You can listen to the nine-minute segment or read about it on NPRís Web site.

Most people, myself included, are guilty of multitasking while driving, whether itís drinking a cup of coffee, handing a tissue to a child or talking on the phone. So while the survey results arenít particularly surprising, it is a good reminder that if you are talking on the cell phone or scolding your kid, other drivers probably are equally distracted. At the very least, it makes sense to put down the coffee and get off the phone so you are better prepared to get out of their way if you need to.

ďIf youíre driving while cell-phoning, then your performance is going to be as poor as if you were legally drunk,Ē David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, told NPR.

  19/11/2008. The New York Times.