January 27, 2009

Mind Not on the Road?

If you're driving and talking on a cell phone, your mind isn't on the road. Period.  And the problem isn't the the physical act of dialing, holding the phone, or listening to the person on the other end. The impairment comes from speaking; and in terms of accident risk, the impairment is comparable to driving drunk.
So says David Strayer, psychology professor at the University of Utah. Radio Times' Marty Moss-Coane interviewed Stayer on Monday's show, and it was a fascinating listen.  Some tidbits from the conversation, mostly derived from Strayer's studies in his lab's driving simulator:
  • Cell phone conversations are much more distracting than in-car conversations.  While conversation-making is a big drain on attention, if you are talking with someone in the car with you, the other person is paying attention to the road as well. 
  • The levels of impairment are essentially the same for hand-held and hands-free devices.
  • Text-messaging while driving is, not surprisingly, even more dangerous.
  • Listening while driving -- to the radio, to a book on CD, pre-recorded conversations to this interview on Radio Times -- is not nearly as problematic.  It's the generation of communication, according to Strayer, that causes the interference. (phew!)
  • Strayer said:  "driving also interferes with your ability to make good decisions while you're on the phone."  Because attention is limited, and because it takes attention to both drive safely and make good decisions, when your attention is divided, both driving and decision-making can suffer.
  • Finally, if you do business on your phone while driving, Strayer suggests that you might be putting your company at risk for liability if there is an accident.
The interview is a great listen; callers asked great questions to which Stayer provided fascinating responses.  A logical conclusion would be that talking on cell phones & driving don't mix.

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1 comment:

waltc said...

Good post. Text-messaging by a driver while "operating" a moving vehicle should be grounds for immediate cancellation of the driver's license and confiscation of the vehicle. A "driver" who is text-messaging is a clear and present danger to anyone else on the road, in addition to themselves. (As a mostly-pedestrian, the very thought terrifies me.)