Study finds cell phones dangerous for drivers


Study finds cell phones dangerous for drivers

Sunday, Mar. 28 2010
We've all seen the car traveling 45 mph in the fast lane of the interstate. Or
the car that idles, motionless, five seconds after the traffic light has turned
green. Or the car that comes to a screeching halt just before plowing into a
line of stopped traffic on the highway.

What do many of these cars have in common?

All too often, their drivers are gabbing away on a cell phone. Whether the
phone is hand-held or hands-free doesn't seem to matter, according to a new
paper by the National Safety Council that bucks some conventional wisdom on
distracted driving.

"Multitasking is a myth," the Safety Council concluded in its white paper
titled Understanding the Distracted Brain. "Human brains do not perform two
tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially."

Phones cause cognitive distraction, taking your mind off the road.

Many states have addressed the growing danger surrounding the use of hand-held
cell phones and texting while driving by requiring hands-free devices. Still,
those don't eliminate the cognitive distraction, the council said. In fact, a
review of more than 30 research studies found that hands-free phones fail to
provide any added safety benefit.

Using any type of phone while driving causes something researchers call
"inattention blindness." It means that people talking on cell phones tend to
"look at" but not "see" objects they encounter, the paper found. It's similar
to tunnel vision.

Drivers using cell phones by some estimates fail to "see" up to half the
information that pops up in their driving environment.

You can expect these folks to miss their exits, run through red lights and
ignore directional signs.

And, yes, you'll see them creeping along in the fast lane or napping through a
green light.

"Can you watch a favorite television show and follow the plot while talking on
a telephone?" asks Dave Teater, senior director of transportation initiatives
for the Safety Council.

When the respondent predictably answers "no," he follows up with something
like: Then how can you drive a 5,000-pound vehicle in a dynamic surrounding
while talking on a cell phone?

Teater said the Safety Council hopes the white paper (which can be found at will help educate the public and lawmakers to the inherent risk of
talking on any type of phone while driving.

When a driver takes his mind off the business of driving, his reaction time
suffers and poses a danger to him and other drivers, the council wrote. "A
driver's response to sudden hazards, such as another driver's behavior, weather
conditions, work zones, animals or objects in the roadway, often is the
critical factor between a crash and a near crash."

That's a big deal when you consider that the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration figures 11 percent of all drivers at any time are on a cell
phone call. The Safety Council figures one of every four vehicle crashes
involves cell phone use.

So the Safety Council concludes that the safe play is to resist our penchant
for multitasking when it comes to driving.


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