Let’s Get Real: I’m Not As Good At Multi-Tasking As I Think I Am, and Neither Are You

Catch me on a good day and I’m blazing through my to-do list with the speed and agility of a preternatural predator. No task is safe from my uncompromising commitment to see it done, and no amount of email, phone calls or other distractions can keep me from it. I can do it all.

At least, that’s how I see my flawless ability to juggle the seemingly unending stream of noise in my life. And why wouldn’t I? Thanks to modern technology I have unparalleled access to tools that can help me navigate my day. Armed with an array of screens large and small, I am the digital conductor of my own life orchestra. A flick of the wrist to the right, a swing of my arm to the left, and dozens of activities are moved closer to completion as I mentally hop, skip and jump around my day.

I am truly a master of multi-tasking. Except that I’m not, and neither are you. And we both have science to blame for bringing us into the light of reality.

Several studies on distraction and the idea of multi-tasking have recently shown that multi-taskers aren’t really doing multiple things at the same time at all. What appears to be a skillful balance among several activities is actually your brain switching from one area of focus to another in quick succession. And while that may sound like the very definition of multi-tasking, scientists say the result is a less efficient and slower processing of both tasks with lower quality than you’d find in someone working on a single effort. In the larger scheme of things, this by itself probably isn’t one of life’s major issues, at least until we bring that behavior into our vehicle.

Not a believer? Consider this: Data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration shows that 52 percent of all accidents in 2013 were caused by distracted driving. Yes, you read that correctly, five years ago nearly half of all automobile accidents had some aspect of distracted driving as a cause. I can only imagine that number has risen significantly.

I recently had an opportunity to join a Distracted Driving event at a Southeast Michigan high school where the students saw firsthand just how dangerous distracted driving can be.

Hosted by the PEERS and Kiefer Foundations, the unique activity actually puts these students behind the wheel of a real vehicle with a cell phone in their hands. As the students moved down the road, instructors would give them their multi-tasks. “Take a selfie for me,” said the instructor I watched. “Now send that to a friend with your text app.”

As you might imagine, the results were pretty scary. Nearly every student who participated was involved in an accident, hitting a pedestrian, running a red light or losing sight of the road altogether. Thankfully, the 2018 Chevy Cruze they were sitting in never moved an inch. Powered by augmented reality technology, the students participating in the PEERS Foundation activity navigated a virtual course.

As a leading global supplier of interiors and experts in Human Machine Interface, Faurecia is committed to eliminating distractions through all means possible, including intuitive technology and designs that can keep drivers focused on the road. But like many things in life, we believe getting at the root cause is the key to solving this problem, and that means changing behaviors and educating young drivers at the beginning of their mobility experience.

We’re proud to be a small part of the PEERS and Kiefer Foundation’s mission to educate young people on the dangers of distracted driving before they develop bad habits, and we’ll continue to work with our OEM customers to make current and future vehicles safer through better design and technology.

You can read more about both organizations at these links:

Not everyone can experience the PEERS Foundation simulator, but those of us who have been driving for a while shouldn’t need to. We know how complicated driving can be even without added distraction.

So please do your part to keep us all safe while we’re on the road. Use the hands-free technology in your car, put your phone in the glove box or center console, or if you really are addicted to that wonderfully slim slab of glass and aluminum, turn it off. Your family will thank you, your fellow drivers will thank you, and I thank you.

Safe travels.