Thursday, June 05, 2008


Hang up and drive

We have a new study that says something I’ve been saying for some time in just about these very words:

A study may shed light on why talking on a cellphone appears to make drivers prone to accidents.

The study looked at how having a conversation with someone who is not present competes with those parts of the brain needed to perform visual tasks.

Safety statistics have shown for some time that talking on a mobile phone is bad for driving, and that using a hands-free system only helps somewhat. Some have been as extreme as saying that, from a safety standpoint, just talking on a mobile phone while you’re driving is as bad as being legally drunk:

“We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit” of 0.08 percent, which is the minimum level that defines illegal drunken driving in most U.S. states, says study co-author Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology. “If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving.”

Psychology Professor David Strayer, the study’s lead author, adds: “Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive. The level of impairment is very similar.”

“Clearly the safest course of action is to not use a cell phone while driving,” concludes the study by Strayer, Drews and Dennis Crouch, a research associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology. The study was set for publication June 29 in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

The study reinforced earlier research by Strayer and Drews showing that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld cell phones because the conversation itself — not just manipulation of a handheld phone — distracts drivers from road conditions.

Note that carefully: these studies say that even if it’s hands-free, using a mobile phone is dangerous while you’re driving. It engages different parts of your brain when you talk with someone who’s not present, compared with talking with someone who’s sitting there with you — parts of your brain that you need to reserve for the task of driving, of paying attentioni to your surroundings, of responding to road and traffic conditions.

We all know how distracting a conversation can sometimes be, even with someone who’s in the passenger seat. These studies provide clear evidence that it’s even worse when your conversation partner isn’t there with you.

Most of us do use mobile phones while we’re on the road. Think about this. Limit the usage to what’s absolutely necessary. Pull over, and have the conversation from the side of the road.

Hang up and drive.

1 comment:

Ray said...

When I was (much) younger, and the roads were far less busy (and this was in England), one of my radio ham friends used to operate 'mobile' (i.e. from his car).

Nothing particularly unusual about that, you might think... except that he used to communicate using Morse Code. Think about it.

He never did have an accident, but life back then was much slower and, as I said, the roads far less crowded than they are today.