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Study: Cell Phone Use Ups Accident Risk

Marcus Didius Falco (
Thu, 03 Feb 2005 17:16:15 -0500

Note the last paragraph. Do we draw the conclusion that the way to improve
safety when talking on the cell phone and driving is to do it more often so
we gain more experience?
Study: Cell Phone Use Ups Accident Risk

By Leon D'Souza
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 2, 2005; 7:19 AM

SALT LAKE CITY -- Talking on a cell phone makes you drive like a
retiree -- even if you're only a teen, a new study shows. A report
from the University of Utah says when motorists between 18 and 25 talk
on cell phones, they drive like elderly people - moving and reacting
more slowly and increasing their risk of accidents.

"If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, his
reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver," said David Strayer, a
University of Utah psychology professor and principal author of the study.

"It's like instant aging."

And it doesn't matter whether the phone is hand-held or handsfree, he said.
Any activity requiring a driver to "actively be part of a conversation"
likely will impair driving abilities, Strayer said.

In fact, motorists who talk on cell phones are more impaired than
drunken drivers with blood-alcohol levels exceeding 0.08, Strayer and
colleague Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology, found
during research conducted in 2003.

Their new study appears in this winter's issue of Human Factors, the
quarterly journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Strayer said they found that when 18- to-25-year-olds were placed in a
driving simulator and talked on a cellular phone, they reacted to
brake lights from a car in front of them as slowly as 65- to
74-year-olds who were not using a cell phone.

In the simulator, each participant drove four 10-mile freeway trips
lasting about 10 minutes each, talking on a cell phone with a research
assistant during half the trip and driving without talking the other
half. Only handsfree phones -- considered safer -- were used.

The study found that drivers who talked on cell phones were 18 percent
slower in braking and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they
lost when they braked.

The numbers, which come down to milliseconds, might not seem like
much, but it could be the difference to stopping in time to avoid
hitting a child in the street, Strayer said.

The new research questions the effectiveness of cell phone usage laws
in states such as New York and New Jersey, which only ban the use of
hand-held cell phones while driving. It's not so much the handling of
a phone, Strayer said, but the fact that having a conversation is a
mental process that can drain concentration.

The only silver lining to the new research is that elderly drivers
using a cell phone aren't any more of a hazard to themselves and
others than young drivers. Previous research suggested older drivers
may face what Strayer described as a "triple whammy."

"We thought they would be really messed up because not only are they
slower overall due to age, there's also a difficulty dividing
attention," Strayer said.

But the study found that more experience and a tendency to take fewer
risks helped negate any additional danger.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press

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