Volunteers were asked to take part in a series of visual tests on a computer while listening to an informational lecture. They were then asked questions about what they had heard.
When they were just listening, they were able to tune out what they were hearing and focus on the visual tasks. But if they were also asked to speak, their performance on the tasks plummeted.
The study found differences, although smaller ones, based on where the sound was coming from. It may be that when people talk to someone who is not present, the visual-processing parts of their brain create a mental representation of where the other person might be. It is quite serendipitous that my girlfriend nearly demolished her Range Rover while talking on a cell phone. Fortunately she only had minor muscle injuries. The other driver got the ticket as she was an elderly woman who clearly was in the wrong, but the central issue is that when you are on a cell phone you are distracted and you simply are unable to focus completely on the road and compensate for other driver’s foolish mistakes.
My guess is that had my girlfriend not been on the phone she would have seen the illegal maneuver by the other driver and been able to avoid the accident. Needless to say I am strongly encouraging her, and all of you, to STOP using your phone while driving. It simply is NOT a wise behavior.
A few years ago, Senator John Corzine and Representative Gary Ackerman tried to pass legislation banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving. They did so for a very good reason; your risk of crashing your car may be as much as four hundred percent higher when you are using your cell phone.
A hands-free units does not make you any safer; the problem is the distraction far more than it is the loss of a free hand. In fact, one recent study shows that driving while talking on a cell phone is just as dangerous as driving while drunk!
The dangers are well known. In fact, complaints about distracted drivers endangering everyone by chattering away on their cell phones are so commonplace as to be cliché. But astonishingly enough, many people chatter away anyway. They are sure that they are the exception, safe on the road despite the distraction. After all, if they can drive with the radio on, why can’t they drive while holding a conversation?
The scientific evidence begs to differ.
A Decade’s Worth of Proof
In 1998, a good decade ago, a study looking at more than 285,000 cell phone users found that there was an increase in deaths as result of motor vehicle accidents among users of both handheld phones and car phones. The rate of fatal traffic accidents was two and a half times greater for those who used their cell phones more than three minutes each day, when compared to those who used it for less than one minute each day.
A couple of years later, in 2000, a paper published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet found an even greater risk. According to that study, the risk of a car accident is four times greater when the driver is using a telephone. What’s more, heavy cell phone users turned out to be involved in twice as many fatal road accidents as light users, and the use of hands-free units did not reduce the risk at all.
2003 research evaluated the driving abilities of college students while they were talking on cell phones. The students missed traffic signals and reacted more slowly to events when they were using either a cell phone or a hands-free device. Their driving was less affected when they were listening to the radio or an audio book. And, as I’ve already mentioned, a very recent study shows that drivers who talk on cell phones are more impaired than drunk drivers with blood-alcohol levels exceeding .08.
Put Away Your Cell Phone When You’re On the Road
Staying away from the cell phone while driving may seem like simple common sense to many people. However, it is a piece of advice which is all too often ignored. Driving while talking on a cell phone is simply not safe -- and I must repeat, this is even if you are using a headset to keep both hands free. Study after study has shown that having a conversation on a cell phone is far more distracting than listening to the radio.
Would you drive drunk? Would you carelessly risk your own life, the lives of your passengers, and the lives of everyone else on the road for no good reason? That’s precisely what you are doing if you try to drive and have a cell phone conversation at the same time. Remember to make your phone calls before you get into the car, or after the car has stopped --- always.
The ability to actually communicate with others on the phone is a relatively recent innovation; people did just fine for nearly a century without being able to have a conversation while driving. It is not a necessity.