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The distracted driving risks of simply hearing a cell notification

In modern-day America, paying attention is a rarer phenomenon than it should be. We are constantly bombarded by things competing for our attention: television, radio, internet ads and, of course, our cellphones. With so much technology always in our immediate field of vision, it is easy to forget that other things need and deserve our attention as well.

One of those things is driving. Despite California’s ban on texting and handheld cellphone use behind the wheel, distracted driving is still a common hazard. And according to a recent study, our cellphones can be a distraction in the car even if we don’t look at them or pick them up.

Researchers in the study wanted to determine if simply hearing cellphone notification tones was enough to cause task-impairing distraction. They found that test participants who heard notification tones experienced mind wandering and task-irrelevant thoughts.

In the days of landlines (and before caller ID), a ringing telephone demanded to be answered. Most of us would feel on edge if someone didn’t pick up the phone. The same now appears to be true with text messages and other forms of instant communication. If a driver receives a text message notification, he may be unable to concentrate on driving until he learns who it is from and what they said.

Hopefully, no one in your family is this attached to their phone. Nonetheless, in light of these study results, conscientious drivers may want to completely silence their phones (not just vibrate mode) and store them out of sight during the drive. When you are behind the wheel, there should be nothing competing for your attention.

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