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Driving distraction starts with call and text notification tones

There are a lot of personal rules people have when it comes to cellphone use behind the wheel. Many younger drivers feel free to read and send texts, and to answer and make phone calls. Other drivers understand that texting while driving is dangerous, but they allow themselves to answer phone calls. And some very conscientious drivers mute their phone and put it out of reach during the drive.

If the behaviors exhibited by the last group seem excessive to you, the results of a recent study might make you reexamine your position. According to the study, drivers who simply hear cellphone notification tones while driving can be as distracted as drivers who interact with their phone behind the wheel.

If you are among those of us old enough to have lived during the heyday of the "land line," you probably know the feeling of tension that occurs when a ringing telephone goes unanswered. That characteristic ringing sound demands action and most of us feel compelled to oblige - even at someone else's house!

The same kind of Pavlovian response may now be affecting how we interact with cellphones. Whether it’s a ringtone, a text notification or simply a vibration, we know that someone is trying to get in contact with us and that we are keeping them waiting. Unfortunately, if you spend your mental energy wondering who it was and what they want, you probably aren't paying attention to the road.

Thankfully, there are some easy fixes for this problem. Many smartphones now offer a "drive mode" feature that can disable all notifications while you are driving, and can even send automated text messages to let people know that are busy paying attention your own safety. Even easier is the method of simply muting your phone entirely (no vibrate mode) and stashing it out of sight during the drive.

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