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A cellphone in the car may be more distracting than you realize

In today's media-saturated world, attention is becoming a rare and valuable commodity. That's why advertisers are looking for new and inventive ways to cut through the noise and get Americans to focus on whatever it is they're selling.

Sadly, lack of attention is also the cause of far too many car accidents and traffic deaths. In spite of California's laws banning texting and handheld cellphone use behind the wheel, more drivers than ever are putting themselves and others at risk by choosing to drive distracted. And according to the results of a recent study, Americans are so conditioned to respond to their cellphones that just hearing notification tones can cause a dangerous level of distraction while driving.

In a study called “The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Notification," researchers found that drivers who hear notifications for a missed call or text message can become nearly as distracted as drivers who actively use their phones behind the wheel. These notification tones "can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance," the study's authors said.

If you want to be conscientious about driving distraction-free, you might need to do more than just put down your cellphone in the car. The best way to combat distraction may be to completely silence your phone and put it in the glove compartment or some other place in the vehicle where you can't easily see it or reach it.

And for parents of teen drivers, please consider discussing this study with your kids. Newly minted teen drivers are at a greater risk of dying in a car accident in their first year after licensure than at any other time after that. Helping them avoid cellphone distractions could very well save their life.

Source: Insurance Journal, "More Cell Distractions," Andrea Wells, July 20, 2015

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