Texting at a stoplight is riskier than drivers realize

Thanks in no small part to public awareness campaigns and plot lines on popular television shows, the average person is now well aware of the risks involved if they pick up their phone to text while driving. Unfortunately, even the most safety-minded individual could still succumb to the siren song of notification chirp from their phone.

People have a very hard time waiting 20 minutes until they reach their destination to check their phones after receiving a message. One of the more common ways that people scratch that metaphorical itch without feeling like they have blatantly broken the law involves checking text messages or firing off a quick response to someone when stopped at a red light. While this may seem safer than texting while actively driving, it is not nearly as safe as people think.

Human brains require time to switch focus

The human brain is an incredible organ, but it has limitations on how much information it can process and how quickly it can shift from one task to another. Cognitive scientists often warn people that true multitasking is not possible. The brain can only focus on one task or concept at a time.

Even when someone goes from one task to another, specific task, the transition can cause issues. Sending a text message at a stoplight and then putting the phone down before proceeding through the intersection seems like a reasonable and safer option than reading messages while driving.

Unfortunately, a driver’s brain will still remain mentally distracted by the text messages they read and sent for roughly 27 seconds after putting their phone back down. They will look at the street around them but not operate at full capacity. They may have trouble making decisions quickly and could fail to notice key changes in their surroundings that would help them prevent a collision.

Safety, not convenience should be everyone’s priority

In a perfect world, drivers would never put the need to keep chatting with a friend above the safety of themselves and others in traffic. However, people often don’t look at the choice as that black-and-white, which makes it easier to find excuses for bending the rules.

Drivers who understand the risks involved with cognitive distraction will have an easier time making choices that keep them safe on the road. Learning about distraction and other causes of motor vehicle collisions can help drivers improve their personal traffic safety and to advocate for their rights in the event that a distracted driver causes them harm.