Oprah show on driver distraction

Guest Bloggers

Guest Bloggers | Jan 19, 2010

By David Strayer

Greetings everyone. This is my first attempt at blogging. Here goes...

Oprah put together a show on driver distraction caused by talking or texting on a cell phone (it aired on Jan 18, 2010 -- if you get a chance, look for a rebroadcast of the show, it was very powerful). The show brought in over a dozen families who had lost a child, sibling, or parent because of a cell-phone related crash. I was asked to provide the scientific background on driver distraction from using a cell phone to talk or text.

When I got to the show, I didn't really know what to expect. I talked to the producers several times before the show and they developed some graphics that illustrate what inattention blindness might look like. I think the visuals helped me to demonstrate how drivers develop tunnel vision when they are on the phone and that drivers often fail to see things that they are looking right at (like a traffic light).

The show began with several stories of loss. They were heartbreaking and it was very difficult to try to keep my composure because I was told that at any time Oprah might ask questions about the science of driver distraction.

When my turn came, I gave a brief synopsis of the limitations of the human mind to multi-task. The main message is that driving is a complicated task that doesn't mix well with talking or texting on the phone. I'll explain why on this blog and you can also visit my lab.

For me, the Oprah show (and this Car Talk web site) are important because it helps link the science on multi-tasking with real-world situations. I hope that the science will be effectively used to help legislators craft appropriate regulations.

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