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MAY 2018


Distraction is actually killing us. Did you know that you are four times more likely to be in a car crash if you are using your cell phone? According to Kansas University researcher, Dr. Paul Atchley, 94% of all car crashes are due to human error and roughly 25% of all car crash deaths in the U.S. are attributable to distraction due to cell phone use. And hands-free use is no bargain at a 400% increase in car crash risk (it ranks slightly riskier than drunk driving).

The effects of distraction on driving performance are dramatic. Conversation restricts visual processing – our attention. Drivers who are on their phones even in hands-free mode are diminished in their ability to scan for hazards or other significant changes that lie ahead of them. The brain is taxed and tries to allocate resources appropriately but our attention is fragmented and markedly reduced. Interestingly, in-vehicle conversation is safer than carrying on a conversation with someone who is not physically present. When conversing with another who is physically present, attentional resources are shared and broadened. When conversing with another who is not with you, your brain unconsciously tries to bridge the strategic gap but just doesn’t have enough resources to adequately compensate for the fractured or split attentional demands of both listening and seeing.

Over the past few years, traffic fatalities have been on the increase although our cars are getting smarter and supposedly safer. It appears as if our tapped-out brains are just not able to keep pace in the battle for our attention. Distraction science is a growing sector of today’s behavior research and is rapidly on the increase as distraction possesses direct public health implications. And please know that I’m no model for digital temperance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn off cell phone use while driving only to answer a phone call minutes later. The digital age is completely upon us and will likely be with us for a while (according to Atchley, 80% of kindergarteners are computer users).

So, this is a compelling topic that touches almost all of us but why write about it? Isn’t The Edge a communique that is typically focused on executive/leadership development, talent management and organizational development issues? Yes, absolutely, and please stay tuned. If digital distraction is becoming the “new tobacco” of our age, what are the implications for the organization and its leaders? Our roadways are populated with distracted drivers but what about our organizations? What leaders do to address this growing phenomenon has everything to do with a leader’s success and the organization’s ability to perform productively.

See you in July, and drive safely…

Dr. Paul Atchley, Kansas University. See TEDxYouth@KC, February 28, 2018.


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