Definitely don't drive like they do in the movies.
We're not talking about speeding through narrow village streets - although you shouldn't do that either. We're talking about taking a good, long look at your passenger while doing so.
Two, three, five, seven seconds. That's how long actors routinely take their eyes off the road. We know they're not really driving. But still, do producers have any idea how very far off they are from reality?
Look at the slapstick films that mock the practice. They only make it a couple seconds before the cars start piling up around them.
Like "Strange Brew," where the driver assumes The Thinker's pose directed at his passenger, who asks, "Hey, did you ever notice that, like, in movies when they're driving, like they don't look at the road, for like a long time?"
Or Jim Carrey's idiot limo driver in "Dumb & Dumber," who lasts about three seconds stretched all the way into the back seat chatting up his rider before . . . boom! (He agrees to keep his eyes on the road, cheerfully chirping: "Can't be too careful, lot of bad drivers out there!")
As is often the case, it's the satire that gets it right.
Because if you've ever seen filmed driving simulators, you'll notice that even when conversing passengers are inserted into the test, drivers never avert their gaze from the road ahead. (In this example from the University of Utah's Applied Cognition Lab, subjects drive alone, with passengers, on the phone, and with other distractions.)
Here's what would happen if they did:
- Look away for three seconds at 60 mph, and the car would travel 88 yards, almost the length of a football field. Add the 1.5 to three seconds it takes to react to the sudden shift in focus, and the distance grows to nearly two football fields.
- Take your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds at 40 mph, and you've driven blind for 90 yards, more than the length of a typical city block.
- At 30 mph, the speed many go in residential neighborhoods, you'll go 68 yards in 4.6 seconds.
While real-world drivers don't stare at each other as seconds tick by, they do, however, often stare at something else: their laps.
Texting? You're already driving like you're in the movies
Why is 4.6 seconds important? That's the amount of cumulative time in a six-second period that drivers had their eyes completely off the road when texting, according to research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Studies now agree that it's not the talking on a cell phone -- or talking to a passenger -- that's dangerous. It's the reaching, dialing and reading, the so-called visual manual subtasks, which triple the risk of a crash.
Add to the distance traveled blind the cognitive delay that occurs when your eyes, and brain, have to refocus on the wide view ahead after concentrating on something near in the car instead.
"Every time you do that, when you change your focus, there's that little gap where your brain isn't getting any information," says Matt Mullins, chief driving instructor at the BMW Performance Center. "But the car's still moving. The car doesn't freeze like the pause on the DVR."
Mistakes are costly - not just the risk to your life and others,' or to the fenders of your car. More and more states have begun to make texting convictions a moving violation, one that reaches your driving record and ultimately can affect your car insurance rates.
They're not driving. They're acting
Meg Ryan's character in "When Harry Met Sally" is so taken aback by Billy Crystal's lack of couth that she gapes at him for a full nine seconds while driving a car out of Chicago, as Crystal extols the virtues of contemplating one's impending death.
"When the #$%$ comes down, I'm going to be prepared," he quips.
Assuming the car is traveling a mere 55 mph, it's safe to say they would have slammed head-on into something in the 243 yards they traveled blind.
Why do multimillion-dollar film and television productions insist on making viewers squirm in their seats?
Mostly it's dollars. Probably 90 percent of car scenes are shot in a studio. Filming atop a trailer that's being dragged through the streets is inefficient, particularly given today's special effects.
Ben Grossmann, an Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor and the CEO of Magnopus, says the actors are almost always sitting in a "buck," a partial car frame surrounded by green screens.
"If the actor driving the car were to be looking straight ahead, he'd probably just be looking at a camera crew, or a giant bank of lights meant to simulate daylight," Grossmann says.
On top of that, it can take hours to wrap a few minutes of dialogue.
"So by the time they've really gotten the performance sorted out, the actor has completely forgotten that they're in a car, and are now just looking at the only real thing around them, which is the person sitting next to them," Grossmann says. "In fact, I've worked on movies before where there wasn't even a car. It was just two actors sitting on wooden boxes and we put the car around them digitally months later."
And there's your answer: It's OK to look at your passenger while driving, as long as you're sitting on a box inside a movie studio.