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Save multitasking for the office

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- With all the ways technology keeps us up to date, it's no wonder people can't help themselves from using their devices while they drive. In today's fast-paced world, getting directions on the go or making plans with friends and family as you travel is simply a more efficient way to get things done.

"Nowadays, almost everyone has become used to multitasking," said Master Sgt. Sarah Law, 50th Space Wing ground safety manager. "When it comes to driving, however, people who multitask are not only endangering their own lives, they're risking the lives of other motorists and bystanders."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given moment 660,000 drivers across the country are using cell phones or some other electronic device while driving. As a result, an estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012.

The NHTSA defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. It includes texting, using a cell phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, using a navigation system or map, watching a video or adjusting a music player.

Because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction. Accordingly, Colorado passed a law prohibiting drivers from using wireless telephones for text messaging in 2009. Drivers can be fined $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second offense.

State laws haven't stopped everyone from texting, however.

A recent University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study showed that 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

"Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting," Law said. "At 55 miles per hour, that's enough time to cover 100 yards or the length of a football field."

Texting may be considered the most risky distracted-driving behavior, but merely talking on a phone can increase a person's chance of crashing.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey indicated drivers talking on handheld or hands-free devices are four times more likely to be involved in a car crash.

A report released by the NHTSA explains that the human brain cannot multitask. Driving and talking on a cell phone are two thinking tasks that involve many areas of the brain. Instead of processing both simultaneously, the brain rapidly switches between two cognitive activities.

Cell phone use can also slow driver's reaction times. A University of Utah study that showed distracted drivers were more oblivious to changing traffic conditions also found that cell phone users had slower reaction times than drivers who were legally drunk or those who had a blood alcohol content of .08.

Drivers are permitted to operate a cell phone on Schriever, but must use a hands-free device. Air Force Instruction AFI 31-218 allows an installation commander to suspend on-base driving privileges for distracted driving. Those cited for operating a handheld cell phone while driving could be issued a warning or lose on-base driving privileges for up to 30 days. Repeated offenses could lead to more suspended time.

"Even with the legal consequences, people continue to text and drive," said Lt. Col. Nate Iven, 50th Space Wing chief of safety. "This is risky behavior that could be devastating for you and others. Make the decision to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel."

Information regarding traffic and driving rules on base can be found in the AFI 31-218 and AFI 91-207 at www.e-publishing.af.mil.
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