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Why Do Cell Phone Conversations Interfere With Driving?

Monty Solomon (
Wed, 9 Feb 2005 10:49:33 -0500

David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, Dennis J. Crouch, and William A. Johnston
Department of Psychology University of Utah

To Appear In W. R. Walker and D. Herrmann (Eds.)
Cognitive Technology: Transforming Thought and Society.
McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, NC.

Why Do Cell Phone Conversations Interfere With Driving?

While often being reminded to pay full attention to driving, people
regularly engage in a wide variety of multi-tasking activities when
they are behind the wheel. Indeed, as the average time spent commuting
increases, there is a growing interest in trying to make the time
spent on the roadway more productive. Unfortunately, due to the
inherent limited capacity of human attention, engaging in these
multi-tasking activities often comes at a cost of diverting attention
away from the primary task of driving. There are a number of more
traditional sources of driver distraction. These "old standards"
include talking to passengers, eating, drinking, lighting a cigarette,
applying makeup, or listening to the radio (Stutts et al.,
2003). However, over the last 5-10 years many new electronic devices
have been developed and are making their way into the vehicle. In most
cases, these new technologies are engaging, interactive information
delivery systems. For example, drivers can now surf the Internet, send
and receive e-mail or fax, communicate via cellular device, and even
watch television. There is good reason to believe that some of these
new multi-tasking activities may be substantially more distracting
than the old standards because they are more cognitively engaging and
because they are performed over longer periods of time.

This chapter focuses on how driving is impacted by cellular
communication because this is one of the most prevalent exemplars of
this new class of multi-tasking activity. Here we summarize research
from our lab (e.g., Strayer & Johnston, 2001; Strayer, Drews, &
Johnston, 2003; Strayer, Drews, & Crouch, in press), that addressed
four interrelated questions related to cell phone use while driving.

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