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Driving and multitasking can have fatal consequences

Many of us pride ourselves at our ability to multitask. At work, we may check email while sitting in a meeting. At home, parents keep an eye on the kids while powering through the daily household chores.

These examples of multitasking seldom end in disasters more series than hitting "send all" on an email — which admittedly can be bad. But when people try to multitask by using cellphones while driving, the results can be catastrophic.

A lost life

Some years ago in a northern state, on a clear afternoon, a distracted 20-year-old motorist using a cellphone blew through a red light and slammed into a vehicle that was legally crossing the intersection. The woman behind the wheel who ignored the light never even braked and slammed into the car doing nearly 50 mph.

There was a 12-year-old passenger in the car that she struck. He didn't survive the encounter. Witnesses reported that the female driver was not glancing down sending a text or pushing buttons on her phone. She was staring out of the windshield when she drove past a school bus and four other cars that had stopped for the red light that she ignored.

Temporary blindness?

Researchers state that these types of collisions are attributable to a phenomenon known as "inattention blindness." It's caused by cognitive distractions, e.g., cellphone conversations. Even remembering to use hand-free devices is not enough to prevent this from occurring.

Of all five senses, vision plays the most important role in safe driving. But when drivers are engrossed in cellphone conversations, drivers can "look at" objects without ever "seeing" them. By some estimates, distacted drivers on cellphones look at without ever seeing as much as half the information present in their driving environments.

Inattention blindness is a kind of tunnel vision. Driving involves a complex process of integrating and responding to various elements in the highway environment. Motorists have to be able to perceive and identify safety hazards and respond appropriately while they constantly monitor their surroundings. When they attempt to multitask behind the wheel, precision is off and disasters loom.

Look at the numbers

By some accounts, there are over 320 million wireless devices just in America. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 9 percent of motorists at any given time are on their cellphones. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 25 percent of all collisions involve drivers' cellphone usage at the time of the accident.

The statistics are clear. Driving and concurrent cellphone usage is dangerous. If you get hit by a distracted driver, you may need to file a claim for damages in order to pursue financial compensation for your injuries.

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