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"Supertaskers" Can Safely Use Mobile Phones While Driving 388

Posted by timothy
from the all-the-children-are-above-average dept.
nk497 writes "While most of us are dangerous when texting, chatting on a phone or being otherwise distracted while driving, one in 40 are actually just fine with such distractions. In a small study, such 'supertaskers' were just as good at driving when carrying on a conversation over a hands-free phone as they were when fully focused. That said, the researchers warned that most people are much worse at driving while chatting and shouldn't do it, adding: 'Given the number of individuals who routinely talk on the phone while driving, one would have hoped that there would be a greater percentage of supertaskers.'" That 1 in 40 aside, reader crimeandpunishment writes "The US Transportation Department is calling for a permanent ban on texting while driving, for interstate truck and bus drivers. An interim ban has been in place since January. The government says it is doing everything it can to make roads safer by reducing the threat of distracted drivers."
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"Supertaskers" Can Safely Use Mobile Phones While Driving

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  • Yup.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ak_hepcat (468765) <leif AT denali DOT net> on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:01PM (#31694066) Homepage Journal

    I'm just fine with the added distractions. In fact, while driving, I usually #*&&&%>...

    NO CARRIER

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Wolvenhaven (1521217)
      It's amazing that a random crash could type "#*&&&%>... [RETURN] NO CARRIER" hit preview and then submit. I guess enough monkeys bashing away on typewriters can create Shakespeare is true.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mysidia (191772)

        Wha, you don't know about 9600 BAUD modem-based gateways used to submit comments to slashdot?

        If he gets disconnected in the middle of typing, it disconnects, to avoid loss of the message, the other side of the gateway dutifully posts it, including the last bit of noise, and the 'NO CARRIER' error reported by the modem.

        Another fun thing to do with those gateways is to post the following on every slashdot comment,

        +++ATH0
        +++ATH0

        FB GUR SRYYBJF HFVAT PURNC XABPX-BSS ZBQRZF GUNG PNA'G VZCYRZRAG CNGRAGRQ

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        Screw typing... what about engraving "AAARGH" in stone as you die?

      • by FooAtWFU (699187)
        Hit Preview? what site do you think your'e on exactl?Y
      • Re:Yup.. (Score:4, Funny)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @06:23PM (#31695012)

        I've just got to:

        Brother Mainar*: "The castle of Aaaaaarrrrgh!"
        King Arthur: "What?"
        BM: "The castle of... Aaaaaaarrrgh"
        Bedevere: "What is that?"
        BM: "He must have died while carving!"
        Lancelot: "Oh, come on!"
        BM: "Well that's what it says"
        KA: "Look if he was dying he wouldn't bother to carve 'Argh' he'd just say it"
        BM: "Well that's what's carved in the rock!"
        Galahad: "Perhaps he was dictating?"
        KA: "Oh shut up!"

      • Re:Yup.. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Idiomatick (976696) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @06:50PM (#31695364)
        When I got my smartphone I didn't have an auto-lock set for it. I left it in my pocket one night when I passed out, it ended up calling my dad twice.

        Two days later my thigh was at it again. It went into my e-mail, found an email from a school club mailing list i was part of. Replied to the whole mailing list (the club was setup so anyone posting to the mailing list would have their message relayed to the whole group). I got like 15emails like "what is 'sadofiefew'?".

        From this I concluded of course that my thigh is smarter than a monkey. And there is a hypothesis that it is upset about the IE number of users.
    • Re:Yup.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:34PM (#31694422) Homepage Journal

      Man, back in the day, I could drive with a joint in one hand a beer in the other hand and an arm around my girlfriend (this was in the days before Slashdot nerd-dom). All while bobbing my head madly to The Ramones and being high on 'shrooms. And I could do all this while timing all the stoplights on Belmont Avenue so I'd never have to shift my Gremlin out of third gear.

      I'd like to see some sissy F1 driver try all that.

      [Disclaimer: Sweeheart, you know Daddy's a big kidder, right? He's just showing off for the guys at /. and never really did any of those things. And that burnt hemostat you found in the closet is from when I was a thoracic surgeon working on burn victims. And that picture of me in the shoebox where I'm sucking smoke through the bottom of a beer can is just some joke that your Uncle Izzy photoshopped in 1975 before he went to prison.]

  • Justification (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:02PM (#31694072)

    This gives many ignorant people justification to feel like they are really one of those 1 in 40. Just don't fucking do it, whether you think you are good at it or not. I'm sure I could do it, but I try not to even answer the phone when I'm on the road.

    • by cmseagle (1195671) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @06:06PM (#31694812)
      >This gives many ignorant people justification to feel like they are really one of those 1 in 40.

      >I'm sure I could do it

      Oh the irony...

    • If you're sure you could do it, why not arrange for a test and find out. There's no reason not to do it if would not impair your driving ability. In fact, I'd say that people who think they may be supertaskers should be able to take a test at the DMV to get a special license, given that their ability to react is not at all impaired. I, on the other hand, do not need to take the test to know I wouldn't pass.
  • by afaik_ianal (918433) * on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:04PM (#31694102)

    The sample size was really small in this - 200. So 5 people out of 200 showed no deterioration in driving skill with improved memory performance.

    I'd love to see how their driving metrics compared to everyone else though. Is it that the keep driving well while on the phone, or are they just crap drivers who don't concentrate on the road even when they're not on the phone?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Halotron1 (1604209)

      The sample size was really small in this - 200.

      Seriously, waaaay too small to jump to conclusions.
      Plus the study needs to be repeated multiple times in different areas by other independent researchers before the results are dependable.

      The odds are just as high that the area in Utah they surveyed is home to the ONLY 5 supertaskers in the world.

      • by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @06:22PM (#31695000)
        It's wrong to call them supertaskers. In any statistical sample, there are extreme observations, which represent *expected* random variation. 5 out of 200 seems well within the expected random variation of most tests, although this can only be checked by looking at the actual tests they used in TFA.

        The problem with calling some people "supertaskers" is that it implies a timeless ability, but testing for a timeless ability requires repeating the tests at regular time intervals over an extended period of time. And even then you can only claim "supertasking" as a transient ability.

        It's bad science to impose a preconceived notion directly in the terminology. It's better to just call them statistical outliers, and to ask how many of those are expected?

        For example, you might get somebody who is really bad at multitasking, but on the day of the test everything works just right. There's green lights, few cars on the road, and they look like supertaskers. Whereas the next day, there might be a string of red lights and a jaywalker and everything goes wrong. The same "supertasker" would be labeled an "undertasker" if the test was done a day later. Even something as simple as whether they had cereal for breakfast, or they are going through an extended divorce could have a nontrivial effect.

        The expected variation in external inputs is what causes an expected number of people to lie at the extremes of the distribution. With a normal distribution, about 5% (ie 10 people out of 200) are at least 2 standard deviations off the mean. That's the extra push that could turn a negative effect into a positive one for those people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by noidentity (188756)
      Yeah, exactly.

      one in 40 are actually just fine with such distractions. In a small study, such 'supertaskers' were just as good at driving when carrying on a conversation over a hands-free phone as they were when fully focused.

      I don't care about relative performance. How well do these supertaskers driving wile focused compare with a normaltasker while focused, and how good are they compared to some standard of safe? In other words, the supertaskers might be great at normal and distracted driving, or really

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TapeCutter (624760) *
      It's not too small, they just picked the sensationalist conclusion. Turn the number around and you have a conclusion that aligns with real world experience - 97.5% of people suffer a deteriation in driving skill while texting. Given that statistic the other 2.5% would need to show no effect over multiple trials to demonstrate it wasn't just dumb luck.
  • by swilver (617741) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:07PM (#31694148)

    I wonder how many of those had a foreign driver's license.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sponge Bath (413667)

      I wonder how many of those had a foreign driver's license.

      Are you trying to say non US drivers are worse or better?
      I've heard plenty of people say non-US are better, but my limited experience in Spain, Italy and Greece says otherwise. The study suggests what I believe: where ever you have humans, you have huge steaming mounds of stupidity.

      • by RobVB (1566105)

        Are you trying to say non US drivers are worse or better?

        Yes, I believe he is.

        I've heard plenty of people say non-US are better, but my limited experience in Spain, Italy and Greece says otherwise.

        I'm going to chalk this one up to limited sample size: you picked the three countries known in Europe for their reckless drivers. I remember my dad driving 90 kmph on a 70 kmph road and other cars honking while flying past us at over 120 kmph. That said, I almost got hit by a raging lunatic driver today as well (in Belgium). The difference is that here in Belgium, I don't expect people to be raging lunatic drivers. In Italy, I hesitate to even get in a car.

  • by c++0xFF (1758032) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:08PM (#31694156)

    I think the current poll [slashdot.org] is informative here. While I suspect that the average IQ of a slashdot reader is indeed above average, The percentage of "super genius" is probably exaggerated.

    The lesson is that while 1/40th of the population falls under the "supertasker" category, the number that claim to be is much, much higher. My estimate would be 1/4th or more perceive themselves that way. And that's a dangerous perception to have.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by joggle (594025)

      I don't even know if there's a correlation between 'supertaskers' and super geniuses.

      Back in high school I took a class that accepted only 28 students from the entire class of 450 (an advanced class for math and science). However, I don't recall anyone being especially good at driving and one was certainly absolutely awful, crashing 3 cars due to being distracted by conversations (in his case he would always want to face the person he was talking to--not a good thing if you're a passenger talking to him whi

    • by molafson (716807) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:18PM (#31694280)

      "The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect [wikipedia.org]

      "People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."

      http://psycnet.apa.org/?fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1121 [apa.org]

       

    • by FreeUser (11483)

      The lesson is that while 1/40th of the population falls under the "supertasker" category, the number that claim to be is much, much higher. My estimate would be 1/4th or more perceive themselves that way. And that's a dangerous perception to have.

      The assumption is that these 1 in 40 "supertaskers" are competent drivers when not talking on the phone (or, deity forbid, texting). It seems more likely they are crap drivers under normal conditions, and remain just as shitty behind the wheel while on the phone.

      I

  • by einhverfr (238914) <chris.traversNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:09PM (#31694162) Homepage Journal

    Let's face it: nobody is willing to say "no phone use at all" while driving. So we have an entirely ineffective compromise which requires hands-free devices. This is a great way to pretend to do something while not actually doing any of it.

    However, far worse, I think there is another factor here: If avoid all distractions while driving on a long trip one of two things will get you: highway hypnosis (a real form of hypnosis sometimes including post-hypnotic amnesia) or your brain will make up its own distractions. Really, has anyone here not had the experience of driving somewhere, getting there, and realizing that there is a chunk of time missing in your memory for part of the drive? While it is profoundly stupid to talk on the phone while navigating through a school zone crowded with students just released from school and their parents picking them up, I am not sure one can make a case that it is a net safety hazard to use a cell phone (hands-free or otherwise) driving down he freeway in the middle of nowhere. In fact, insofar as it prevents more dangerous hypnotic states from developing, it might be a net safety win to talk on the phone.

    A much better approach would be to ban all use of cell phones while driving through residential and school zones, ban most cell use while elsewhere within city limits, and allow driving and talking on the phone on open roads in the country. That's not a popular view tough.

    • by corbettw (214229)

      While it is profoundly stupid to talk on the phone while navigating through a school zone crowded with students just released from school and their parents picking them up

      I don't know if it's stupid, but it is somewhat sporting. After all, if you aren't paying attention, you might miss a few of them.

    • While it is profoundly stupid to talk on the phone while navigating through a school zone crowded with students just released from school and their parents picking them up, I am not sure one can make a case that it is a net safety hazard to use a cell phone (hands-free or otherwise) driving down he freeway in the middle of nowhere.

      I actually find the reverse. Here in Aus, the speed limits near schools are 40k/h (25mph). When driving near schools, I'm going so slowly that stuff like instant awareness and reaction speed isn't as necessary as when I'm belting down the highway at 110.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      I think hands free is a good compromise. If your Toyota suddenly accelerates out of control, your other hand wouldn't be too busy holding your phone to put your car into neutral.

      It's far safer to drive with both hands unoccupied than just one hand. The second hand isn't always occupied, but in the few situations when you do need to use it, you really do.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Let's face it: nobody is willing to say "no phone use at all" while driving. So we have an entirely ineffective compromise which requires hands-free devices. This is a great way to pretend to do something while not actually doing any of it.

      Because 'no phone use at all' is retarded. If you're going to allow passengers to talk in the car, hands free is pretty much the same thing. The driver can ignore both if they are capable doing so, but most aren't. If you're not going to allow using a phone because its

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by inigopete (780297)
      "Banning all" and "allowing" are fine legal positions - to "ban most cell use" is a very dodgy grey area hard to define or defend.
  • by gilesjuk (604902) <[ku.oc.nez] [ta] [senoj.selig]> on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:10PM (#31694180)

    Problem is this study will be shown to be proof worldwide when there are big differences between the US and other countries when it comes to driving and cars.

    In the UK we're mostly manual transmission drivers. An auto is easier to drive when holding a phone, but try holding a phone, steering and changing gear at the same time!!

    • LoL. Admittedly, its easy to hold a conversation, but I can't shift gears while texting with my right hand. I just set it down on the passenger seat real quick while needing to shift.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      In the UK we're mostly manual transmission drivers. I take then that you haven't had any problems with Toyotas suddenly accelerating out of control... a situation easily avoided by merely pushing down on the clutch pedal!
  • Open Season (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Un pobre guey (593801) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:12PM (#31694200) Homepage
    Great. Now every dipshit who thinks he is one of the 1 in 40 supposed "supertaskers" will feel he is entitled to fully express his inner idiot. Great. I'll bet that a few months or years from now this will be shown to actually be the crock of shit it sounds like.
  • by CODiNE (27417) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:12PM (#31694212) Homepage

    I saw this teenager once shooting hoops while talking on his cell phone. For about five minutes he just kept at it, didn't miss a shot, didn't pause talking while doing a jumpshot or anything. Someone else started using the same hoop, no sweat, didn't even have to wait just perfectly synchronized with the other kid.

    Damn.

    1 in 40. Not me.

  • Ambulance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ceiynt (993620) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:15PM (#31694238)
    You wanna see super taskers, look at an ambulance that's driving with it's lights and sirens on. We would clear an intersection, zip around traffic, talk on the radio, plug in addresses into GPS, and eat our lunch all at the same time, while trying to provide a smooth ride for the people in back doing CPR and handling sharp pointy objects.
    • Re:Ambulance (Score:4, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:40PM (#31694496) Homepage

      That's not necessarily a supertasker - that's being well trained and experienced.

    • by RobVB (1566105)

      Ambulances (while doing the work that requires frantic multitasking) have lights and sirens, though, which makes a big difference. People are (generally) very attentive and get-out-of-the-way-like towards them. Nobody expects them to stop for a pedestrian crossing, for example.

      Idiots who text while driving don't have those obvious warning signs. Perhaps they should?

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Ahhh ... its happening already ... someone who thinks he's the 1 in 40 rather than realizing he's just not a statistic/blood splatter.

      I guess you were the special one and that the 40 or so other people you worked with weren't supertaskers ... how did they do pretty much the same thing you do without being a supertasker?

  • Great. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by straponego (521991) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:16PM (#31694246)
    98% of people will believe they're in the 2% who can "supertask".
  • The story title seems to cast a rather broad net with its "`Supertaskers` Can Safely Use Mobile Phones While Driving"... there's a huge difference between...

    involved having a hands-free mobile phone conversation

    ...and...

    The Transportation Department on Wednesday proposed a ban on text messaging at the wheel

    One just requires you to listen and yap - still not as good paying attention to your driving 100%, but people listen to (talk) radio and whatnot and sing along with songs or carry on conversations with o

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      Indeed -- talking is merely a distraction, texting should be prosecuted as attempted murder.

  • As a contractor for the past 10 years, I often found myself in situations where I am driving and there is a phone call and there is an emergency or there is a meeting and I have to be there, whatever, I always hate those, because I know it is not a good idea to drive and be on the phone where I actually have to solve something, pay attention, participate. Have to do it anyway, so I don't know if these 'super-taskers' have a natural ability or they just do what I have to do and increase the attention that I

  • Task Saturation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by G-Man (79561) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @05:39PM (#31694490)

    1 in 40? I wonder if that is the same proportion of people who can be fighter pilots. In a past life I was a Weapons Director in the Air Force - fancy title for someone who looks at a radar screen and says "the bad guys are over there!" I worked with fighter pilots (primarily the F-15 and F-16), and the thing is, no one task they do is all that complicated. The catch is that you have to do several at the same time:

    1) Fly the plane
    2) Operate the radar
    3) Search visually outside the cockpit
    4) Talk/listen to your wingman
    5) Talk/listen to radar controllers (that was me)

    Only when you have mastered all these can you then:

    6) Develop a mental picture of what is going on - "Situational Awareness" (SA)
    7) Decide on the proper tactics and execute them, and
    8) Get yourself into position and employ the weapons systems

    Experienced pilots are obviously masters of all 8. An inexperienced pilot can get bogged down on step 2, and never hear you repeatedly telling him that the bandit is rolling in on his six-o-clock.

    Of course, they get better, and I wonder if proper training could turn more people into 'supertaskers'. Then again, we don't spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars training the average driver.

  • The problem is that most people can't "supertask." Taking away one distraction (to some) accomplishes nothing. People can still talk while they drive, change the song on their iPod, eat lunch, shave their bikini area, etc.
  • I'm one of those supermultitaskers! Yes I am! In fact, right now I'm driving while I posqoaherohd;lk

  • But I follow them because I realise that driving is a privilege and not a right.
    Think of the physical and mental thought processes when up shifting in a standard transmission vehicle.
    Your brain interprets, through the speedometre and tachometre, that you need to shift.
    You press the clutch in with your left foot.
    Shortly after you press the clutch in, you move the shifter into the next gear. You may have to move down, up and to the right, up and to the left, depending on your make of car.
    You allow the engine

  • ... I don't actually support a ban. Not because I would ever want someone to do it - I don't. Rather, because the ban is absurdly difficult to enforce. Cops can't easily tell when someone is really texting versus just dialing. And even if someone was sending a text message while driving it isn't easy to prove that they did it. AFAIK we already have provisions against "distracted driving" and "impaired driving" in most states, they should just charge people under those codes if they manage to catch any.
  • Meowing on the phone doesn't detract from her driving ability in the slightest.

    In other words, perhaps their attention is more or less permanently divided between driving and a Walter Mitty like daydream. Then the phone distracts them from their daydream. That would imply that their driving performance doesn't decline because even when not distracted they drive like the rest of us would while on the phone.

    TFA doesn't have enough information to know if the analysis considered that or not, it only spoke of re

  • Is this hoohah about talking on your phone, or texting with it? C'mon...

    Talking on the phone has never been too distracting for me, and is at least as safe as having a passenger, unless she's better looking than my phone. Another problem.

    But texting for me is an interesting proposition. Sometimes I do fine, and someetimes I have to stop cause I'm just not supertasking. I can see banning that, but banning conversations talking on the phone, that's stupid if you have a headset. If you don't, you should c

  • Am I am of the 1 in 40? I can talk on the phone while driving with little to no performance suffering on the driving side. BUT- I prioritize driving so much higher that you wouldn't WANT to talk on the phone with me, since I often miss half what is said or pause to respond.

    $renice 20 phoneuse

    That just illustrates I *can* use the phone safely, but something is going to suffer, and I let it be the phone. I find it no more or less distracting than a passenger talking. That said, I very rarely use the phone

  • what to do about it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @08:44PM (#31696314) Journal

    I hate riding around and seeing idiots jabbering on the phone in their SUVs and driving like I'm not even there. I feel like there's absolutely no recourse to the action. They aren't likely to hear me if I cuss them out, and I don't typically carry items to throw. I feel like there's nothing to reinforce proper behavior until they kill somebody, because there's just nothing I can do to them to get it through their heads that they are dumbasses before they drive off. Seriously, is there any way to get these idiots off the road? Will sending photos to police help?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Green Salad (705185)

      >Would sending photos to police help?

      I'd think knowing a driver's insurance company and being able to send photos of risky behavior to them would be more effective than the cops. Money is a pretty powerful motive.

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