Why talking on a cell phone distracts drivers, from the Harvard Mental Health Letter

It seems counterintuitive: why is talking on a cell phone while driving any more distracting than talking to a passenger? The reasons have to do with the way our brains process information, reports the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

About eight in 10 Americans who own cell phones use them while driving. The results can be disastrous. Federal experts estimate that people talking on cell phones while driving cause about one-third of U.S. traffic accidents—about 1.6 million a year.

Although people like to think they can multitask, cognitive research suggests that the brain tends to focus on one major activity at a time, says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. Talking on a cell phone may cause "inattention blindness" to anything else going on at the same time.

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