'Multitasking is a myth,' regulators seek limits on car touchscreens

Apr 23, 2013

U.S. traffic safety regulators have proposed voluntary measures to keep drivers from being distracted by in-car touchscreens.

In a study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the tasks associated with hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

Regulators fear in-car devices could lead to distracted driving as well.

The government's voluntary guidelines establish recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are built.

The guidelines seek to limit the time a driver must take her eyes off the road to manipulate a device to two seconds at a time - and twelve seconds total to complete the task.

The voluntary guidelines also recommend turning off several operations while the vehicle is in motion:

  • Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing;
  • Video-based entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing;
  • Display of certain types of text, including text messages, web pages, social media content.

In a press release, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said:

"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," said Secretary LaHood. "These guidelines recognize that today's drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need. Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives."

A spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers told the Associated Press they're concerned regulations on in-car devices would encourage more use of mobile devices while driving.

The National Safety Council put out a report on "understanding the distracted brain" in which they write "Multitasking is a myth."

Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another. Brains can juggle tasks very rapidly, which leads us to erroneously
believe we are doing two tasks at the same time. In reality, the brain is switching attention between tasks – performing only one task at a time.

Here's one example of a distracted brain: