60-Second Science

Rare Drivers May Multitask Safely

In driving simulations tests, 2.5 percent of subjects could talk on the phone and still operate their "vehicle" safely. Steve Mirsky reports

The National Safety Council estimates that 28 percent of all highway accidents and deaths are caused by drivers paying poor attention to the road because they’re holding cell phones to their heads. But a study of 200 volunteers finds that one out of every 40 people apparently can operate a vehicle just fine while chatting on a phone. In simulated driving tests, anyway. The research by University of Utah psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer will be published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

Why are there so few great multitaskers? The researchers say there may be a hidden cost, and that someone might excel at multi-tasking at the expense of other information processing. Or the high-tech environment that rewards multi-tasking is too new for the ability to have widely propagated, if there’s a true evolutionary advantage to having it.

The researchers want to study so-called supertaskers to find out how their brains do it. Meanwhile, don’t assume you’re one of the very few who can apparently talk and drive safely. There’s a very high probability that you’re not.

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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