Conclusive evidence that cell phones distract drivers
July 27, 2001 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Conclusive evidence that cell phones distract drivers What did this say? I was busy chatting on my cell and missed some of this. Could it be? What should we do? Ah, I am aa good driver; it is the other person who can't drive and talk.
posted by Postroad (26 comments total)

 
and what about people that eat, do their hair, put on cosmetics, etc.?

i'd like to see a study on the level of distraction of the guy i saw driving while reading a spread open newspaper.
posted by bwg at 10:30 AM on July 27, 2001


What?? Are you there? Can you hear me? Are you there? I can't hear you! Are you still there? Hello? Hello?? Wait....

Okay, that's better. Are you still there?? Hello??
posted by mudbug at 10:42 AM on July 27, 2001


Or what about those people who talk or listen to the radio? Next logical step for the phone commies: Move to ban radios from all vehicles and pass laws prohibiting people from talking while driving.
posted by mrbula at 10:54 AM on July 27, 2001


Carnegie Mellon Study Provides Conclusive Evidence That Eating a Meatball Sub with Extra Tomato Sauce Distract Drivers:

"In findings reported in the journal NeuroImage, a team led by Carnegie Mellon Psychology Professor Marcel Just discovered that attending to a meatball sub with extra tomato sauce significantly distracts the brain from processing complex visual information."
posted by panopticon at 11:00 AM on July 27, 2001


I think all these problems could be solved with an 'asshole ban' law. Cell Phones? I imagine truck drivers needing them to get directions for their next pick up. What about a Doctor? Yeah, if there's an emergency at the hospital. What? You're calling in to your wife to see if it's going to be Applebie's or Friday's today? No, you're being an asshole, no cell phone.

SUV's? If you're a hunter? Yeah, I guess, do you provide it for a poor family? Ok, fine. You have 6 kids, have no bus stop near you and are enviromentaly consciencous enough to get an SUV instead of a VAN? Sure.

You cut right in front of me, while I was in the right lane and didn't bother to turn your signal? But you're in a hurry because your 10 year old daughter was in accident? You're in a hurry because you are a toxic waste expert and is needed on a plutonium spill site? Ok, I understand. What? You're trying to hurry up because you're wife is sceaming to you on your cell phone because you are being late to go to Applebie's? You're an asshole, you get a ticket.

If life was that simple.
posted by tiaka at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2001


I can't do it. I can't talk on the cell phone and drive as well as if I wasn't. Maybe it would be easier if I had a Speakerphone. I for one am in favor of hands-free-only while driving. But, to be honest, I am just one of those people that has a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time, much less talking and driving. It's a good thing I don't smoke while I'm drving anymore. It's definitely too much for me to shift gears, smoke, drink my big gulp, talk on the phone and steer all at the same time! Yeesh!
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2001


I am amused that people still mention "what about those who are...." After all, if I were drinking hot coffee, I would not likely be driving at 80 miles an hour; if I was putting on makeup, nibbling on a sandwhich, listening to the radio etc etc--the argment is simple: when one is engrossed in chit chat over the phone there is much less attention to driving. When listening to radio etc there may be an inconvenience, a slowing down of response but it is not distracting in the same way that a two-way conversation is.
Of course if there is an emergency one ought to use the phone. But then, why not pull over and make the hasty call to avoic another emeregency?
posted by Postroad at 11:15 AM on July 27, 2001


postroad:

i wasn't kidding about the newspaper guy - he was driving down the freeway at 65 mph, reading the paper.

but you are absolutely right. i remember a couple times where my phone conversation distracted me enough i almost had an accident.

i quit talking while driving after that.

now that i live in hong kong, i don't need a car. but with the massive amount of mobile phones (something like 70% market penetration) in this city of 7 million, it's a sheer miracle more people aren't killed walking into traffic, doors, or other people.
posted by bwg at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2001


Hey, I know: let's ban people who drive around town with a backseat crammed with yowling brats too. I suspect that the "Don't make me stop this car!" threat is rarely acted upon; it's much more time-efficient to give your kid a throbbing-vein tongue-lashing or a backwards swat upside the head without so much as brushing against the brake pedal.

... of course, this proposal would seem to create, in effect, a ban on transportation of yowling brats ... warrants further study, will have my staff get on it.
posted by Sapphireblue at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2001


I think any of us who drive regularly *know* that the crappiest drivers on the road are the ones on cell phones. It's the truth -- I've seen it with my very own eyes.

I've talked on the phone while driving maybe three times. I keep it short and have done it only while waiting in traffic or at a stop light. I ignore the phone if its ringing while I'm driving and I don't make phone calls. Because it's harder to talk and drive. And, I don't want to annoy other people like they annoy me.

I don't know why people make a big deal out of having to put down their phones. It *is* a bigger distraction than the radio or talking to a passenger. If you think about what it means to talk on the phone while driving, you'll know why it's harder.
posted by amanda at 11:49 AM on July 27, 2001


What about yowling brats in SUVs with cell phone wielding moms at the wheel? I see it all the time in my neighborhood, and, I tell you, I saw quite a few close calls ... and we are not even talking freeway driving here. More like mowing down the kids in the crosswalk or the school parking lot!

Seriously, though, I do believe that talking on the cell phone is way more distracting than talking to someone who is present in the car or listening to the radio while driving. With people in the car there are all sorts of other non-verbal cues in the conversation, but when one is on the cell phone, with only a voice to relate to, there tends to be more concentration on the cell phone speaker's part to make up for those missing elements of relating, so less of his or her awareness is available for driving adn taking in the road....

Just my 2 cents ... and speaking from experience.
posted by poorhouse at 11:51 AM on July 27, 2001


I just got a cell phone (work leash I call it) and the first time it rang in the car was the last time. I drive a 5 speed. Trying to drive, shift talk on the phone, not happening. Couple that with the fact that it is usually work related...... NOPE!!!
I actually got scolded because yesterday was the first day this week I took it out of my briefcase and turned it on.
HEHEHEHE

I for one am for making people responsible for their driving.
You a re a 2 dimensional pilot, with no co-pilot. And no, god is NOT your co-pilot.

Common sense, just a little of it, would solve this issue. I cannot imagine all that much that is so important that I must talk on the phone while driving.

Trying to check out the woman next to me is distracting enough ;-)
posted by a3matrix at 12:04 PM on July 27, 2001


And no, god is NOT your co-pilot.

Good thing too! Imagine how distracting THAT would be: "God?! Yeah...Hold on. I'll get him. GOD! ANOTHER CALL FOR YOU! John Paul somebody-or-other. Shall I tell him you're out? Hey! Stop playing with the radio! The cigarette lighter is NOT a toy! PUT THAT DOWN!"

*crash*

Pontius is my co-Pilate

k
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2001


any of us who drive regularly *know* that the crappiest drivers on the road are the ones on cell phones

actually, i think the elderly are the crappiest. dumb-asses on cell phones are #2.

and i drive crappily without the excuse of a cell phone. i get distracted by pretty colors, shiny objects and shirtless men jogging by. i don't need a phone.
posted by tolkhan at 12:40 PM on July 27, 2001


Yeah, sure, cell phones are a distraction while driving. So are billboards, antique autos, drive-in movie theatres, CD players, sandwiches, conversations with passengers, constellations, and giant statues of chickens and cows, to mention a few of the things that caused my attention to drift from its supposed absolute focus on the road ahead during my thousand-mile road trip earlier this week.

This study doesn't have anything to do with cell phones. It simply proves that people have a limited amount of attention to distribute and that participating in a conversation occupies some of that attention. That is what the study literally demonstrates. The jump to cell phones is an extrapolation, an example of a situation to which this principle probably applies. The research applies every bit as well to conversations with passengers in the car as it does to conversations with people not in the car.

The only reason people keep yammering on about banning cell phones while driving is that they are new and not yet considered normal. If the concept of the stereo had never existed until a couple of years ago, and people had just started mounting them in their cars, you'd have the same people going on about banning them too. Why are we in such a hurry to ban this? What does banning cell phone use accomplish that penalties for reckless driving don't already cover? If someone has enough attention to spare that they can talk on the phone (or to a passenger) while driving, why stop them?

I actually drive better when distracted. Without a conversation or music or something to think about, I'll often simply "zone out" from sheer boredom and fail to notice things happening right in front of me. Maybe I should take this article as a hint to bring my cell phone with me in the car and talk on it all the time in order to improve my driving.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:18 PM on July 27, 2001


These kinds of discussions are really just skirting around road safety solutions. As several people have commented, driving is sufficiently psychologically and environmentally complex for single-factor safety 'solutions', such as banning use of mobile phones, to be utterly insignificant.

Maybe we need an entirely new approach. Consider risk compensation. You want really safe and attentive driving? Put a six inch steel spike in the center of every steering wheel and make the front of every vehicle a fragile glass bubble.
posted by normy at 1:45 PM on July 27, 2001


The only difference is that your radio doesn't get mad at you when you don't listen to it. People keep comparing tasks such as eating and listening to a radio in your car to be the same as talking on a cell phone. Driving and interacting in a conversation require use of the same portions of your brain to multitask.

Most people can drive and "lift sandwich, stuff in face, bite down, put remainder of sandwich on seat next to you". It is distracting, but not the same thing. They also describe having the radio on for "background noise". Your conversation on a cell phone is not background noise, you are interacting in a conversation, which takes some of your attention away from driving.

I'm not totally against cell phones in cars (although I don't use one while driving). Hands free, ok.....better than talking, switching lanes without signals, slamming on the brakes because you weren't paying attention to the stopped cars in front of you.

I can't count how many Expeditions I've watched go off into the ditch or onto the shoulder. While the driver was gabbing not paying attention and traffic came to a abrupt stop.
posted by 120degrees at 3:33 PM on July 27, 2001


While I do talk on the cell phone while driving myself, I think the true argument for banning non-hands-free cell phone use while driving is not because the conversation distracts you, since many other things can also distract you, but because while talking on the phone, you have to hold it, which means that you only have one hand free. Even if you normally only drive with one hand on the wheel, the other hand is usually unoccupied, so it's ready for use for signaling, shifting, or gripping the steering wheel, if needed.

Having said that, I am against banning the use of anything while driving, with the possible exception of things which will impair your judgement (such as alcohol and drugs). By the way, I don't think cell phone use impairs judgement; the main effect is on reaction time.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 5:16 PM on July 27, 2001


The only difference is that your radio doesn't get mad at you when you don't listen to it.

Do people get mad at you when you're not listening while talking on a cell phone driving 65? No one gets mad at me, and if they do, they lose the 'tude pretty quickly when I tell them that I'm driving on the highway...

Driving and interacting in a conversation require use of the same portions of your brain to multitask.

Link please, because I don't think that's true. I don't remember the last time I use my vision and spatial relationship parts of my brain to talk on the cell phone. I agree that there is an overlap in higher thinking, but it's not that big of an overlap.

The problem is that some minds don't multitask. My girlfriend is a pretty bad driver (but getting better), but if she's on the phone, she's downright dangerous (in my opinion). She avoids talking on the phone because she knows her limits.

I on the other hand, have no problem performing 10+ fairly simultaneous tasks and am not any more dangerous on the cell phone than not, because I use the same amount of my brain for driving regardless. (Hard to explain tho)

They also describe having the radio on for "background noise".

Apparently they don't listen to Dr. Laura. That show takes up a significantly higher portion of my attention span as I'm screaming at the top of my lungs what a stupid, ignorant--anyway... :-)

NPR?

I can't count how many Expeditions I've watched go off into the ditch or onto the shoulder. While the driver was gabbing not paying attention and traffic came to a abrupt stop.

Some people can't grasp physics. They shouldn't be physicists. Some people aren't visually creative. They should be artists. Some people can't walk and chew gum at the same time. They shouldn't use cell phones.

Also, I think Mars' post was very well put. We have traffic safety laws. Anything else is "designer politics"... Anti-chic is chic...
posted by fooljay at 5:21 PM on July 27, 2001


Mars said: This study doesn't have anything to do with cell phones:

I say: Maybe you should read the article again.


Mars said: The research applies every bit as well to conversations with passengers in the car as it does to conversations with people not in the car


I say: oh really? So talking with people in the car requires pushing buttons and getting a decent signal?


Mars said: The only reason people keep yammering on about banning cell phones while driving is that they are new and not yet considered normal


I say: cars are new (~1915). telephones and the telephone network have been around since before cars (~1890).


Mars said: I actually drive better when distracted. Without a conversation or music or something to think about, I'll often simply "zone out" from sheer boredom and fail to notice things happening right in front of me


I say: I'd like to see an independant study of your driving before I form my own conclusions based on some data, not your well-formed misinformation.
posted by greyscale at 7:36 PM on July 27, 2001


"I drive better after a few beers..."
posted by Ptrin at 7:45 PM on July 27, 2001


I play pool better after a few beers, but WTF does that have to do with anything?! :-)
posted by fooljay at 8:31 PM on July 27, 2001


> Maybe we need an entirely new approach.

1. Drive less. (Raise gas prices. Zone walking distances back into neighborhoods. Walk off some of that disgusting fat.)

2. Drive slower. (Keep current limits but enforce them properly, so you get a fine every time you speed.)

Maybe other things would help (ban restaurant drive-through windows, for example), but driving less and driving slower would be enough.
posted by pracowity at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2001


I'd have to agree with EatenByAGrue's hypothesis that the problem with cell phones primarily is how they are not hands-free. If a law was put into place that related to the underlying problems, not to the specific technologies, we'd probably get a lot further along in life with less trouble and headache. Cell phones don't seem much more complex than most radios (unless you're trying to send an ascii message) so it would seem included headsets etc could resolve the majority of driving+cell use problems.
Maybe something in a law like "no hand-held appliances to be operated or used while operating a moving vehicle" and that would leave a large part of the decision about its relevance to the discretion of an officer, or judge.
posted by greyscale at 10:04 AM on July 28, 2001


Maybe something in a law like "no hand-held appliances to be operated or used while operating a moving vehicle" and that would leave a large part of the decision about its relevance to the discretion of an officer, or judge.

But again, aren't current reckless driving laws broad enough to cover any problems?
posted by fooljay at 2:00 PM on July 28, 2001


No, greyscale, you reread the article. The study didn't have anything to do with pushing buttons and getting a decent signal. It had to do with listening to spoken words while performing some (unspecified) task. I quote, from the article:

In a study using non-invasive techniques to see inside the brain, scientists read sentences to 18 people while they were doing a complex visual processing task. The researchers found that listening to someone speak consumes some of the resources that would otherwise be allocated to a complex visual information-processing task.

That is what the study was about. The study did not involve cell phones, or even conversation. There is nothing mentioned about this study that would not also apply to the human being in the passenger seat, listening to a book-on-tape, or listening to talk radio.

You said:
I say: cars are new (~1915). telephones and the telephone network have been around since before cars (~1890).

You are missing the point so thoroughly that I wonder whether you're doing it on purpose. We're not talking about telephones, we're talking about mobile telephones, such as the type you can carry around in your car and use while driving. The effect of a regular telephone on one's driving performance is about as relevant as the effect of taking a shower on one's driving performance - until someone invents a captain's chair with a showerhead, the fact that showers have existed for centuries is irrelevant.

Car phones have, of course, been around for a few years - my dad has had one in his company truck for over a decade. But we've only just reached the point of critical mass, where cell phones have gone from uncommon to common, and we haven't - as a society - yet decided what we think about that.

You also said:
I say: I'd like to see an independant study of your driving before I form my own conclusions based on some data, not your well-formed misinformation.

Of course my driving is irrelevant. That was a personal comment designed to explain my frustration with anti-cell-phone-driving laws. The meat of my argument is this: the study does not prove anything about cell phones specifically. We are only talking about cell phones because they are politically hot, not because this study has anything to do with them. The study proves that listening to a human voice occupies part of one's attention which might otherwise be available for "visual processing tasks". That's all it proves. Everything else is, at this point, speculation.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2001


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