man using phone while driving the carThink you can multitask while driving and it won’t affect your risk of having a car accident? Think again. Brain researchers say it’s a terrible idea. But just how terrible? Researchers say it’s akin to driving while legally drunk. That’s because distracted driving impacts and impairs one’s visual perception, in particular, peripheral sight. That text, phone call or meal can wait.

It all goes back to science. We take for granted how much brain power driving requires. When we get behind the wheel we are faced with processing a significant amount of visual information, predicting the actions of other drivers and physical maneuvering. And that’s just during normal or optimal driving conditions. Add bad weather to the mix and we are forced to become even more nimble.

So what does this mean for drivers, especially green ones? If you’re a new driver, you need to turn down or off the radio and not carry on involved conversations with the people in the car with you. You need all of your brain to master the task of driving. While most people know that texting while driving is dangerous, most people don’t realize that talking on the phone while driving, even with a hands-free device, increases your risk of an accident. Whether you’re a new or experienced driver, know that anything that takes your mind away from driving — eating french fries or a burger, sipping a soda, drinking coffee, changing radio stations or applying makeup — can increase your odds of an accident.

Think hands-free devices eliminate the risks of distracted driving? Nope. Drivers talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones are still 4X as likely to be involved in a car crash as someone who isn’t, according to the National Safety Council. The council estimates that people talking on cell phones while driving are involved in more than one-fifth of all traffic crashes nationwide.

Concerned about distracted driving? You can try a few preventative measures. Turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode so that you won’t receive any notifications while you’re driving. There are apps that can let people who are texting you know that you are driving and that you’ll text them back when you’ve arrived at your destination. Eat a full meal before you drive — not while you’re driving. Have a playlist or radio station set up so that you aren’t having to fiddle with the car radio or your cell phone. Don’t put your life and the lives of other motorists at risk.