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On The Road

Your Brain on Distraction

Discover what goes on in your brain when you drive distracted.

by Alex Kelly

Distracted driving has been getting a lot of airtime recently, and for good reason; it is one of the top factors in collisions on our roads. Whether it is distraction due to cell phones, noisy kids, road rage, or any other factor, the bottom line is the same — it pulls your focus from the task of driving, a dangerous move. 

We’ve covered how Ontario’s distracted driving legislation was updated last year, but now we have another question to answer: What really happens when we're distracted behind the wheel?

Humans & distraction

Your brain is a complex machine made up of different regions, capable of handling many demands and requests at once. Studies have found that as demands to the brain increase — like during tricky driving maneuvers  brain activity across different regions increases as well. 

Distractions, such as conversations, have been found to increase this load even more, potentially limiting your reaction capacity — which isn't great for collision avoidance. The brains of young drivers are even more complex, governed by reward centres in the brain. This makes teens more likely to partake in risky activities behind the wheel, priming them for distraction. 

Humans aren’t designed for multitasking, despite how good at it we think we are. Researchers had drivers perform distracting tasks, such as texting and dialling cell phones, and found that crashes or near-crashes increased. This carries over to other areas of your life, too — neuroscientist Daniel Levitan writes that our mental effectiveness, including decision-making, decreases by about 40% when multitasking.

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What does the future hold?

The future is focused on using technology to change the impact distraction has behind the wheel. Self-driving cars are certainly one solution, but full autonomous adoption isn’t a reality yet

However, that’s not to say that distraction-mitigation is at a standstill. The research community is invested in understanding how internal elements of the car (such as your dashboard controls) distract from the task of driving, informing the design of future vehicles. Mobile device companies are on board as well, with Apple and Android developing technologies that silence phones while driving. While it is an optional feature, it can keep your brain focused when activated.


Drive like your life depends on it 

Ultimately, the pace of technological development shows no sign of slowing, and with that, legislation will evolve to ensure safety on the roadways. While you may be convinced you can handle distraction, the research says otherwise. 

Check up on your driving skills by downloading the Onlia Insurance™ app — a fantastic way to put the phone down, and be rewarded for driving distraction-free!  

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