New research shows data that cause serious concern about talking on hands-free cell phones while driving. Driving impairment is caused by what now researchers call "inattention blindness".
Inattention blindness makes motorists to react less quickly and more accident prone. When talking on mobile phone, the drivers although they watch at the scenes in front of them, they process this visual information much slower.
Taking into consideration that driving is a complex activity, that for each mile driven the driver has to take at least 20 decisions and that he has less than half a second to avoid a collision, someone can easily realize how important is any delay of the visual information processing can be and what disastrous consequences this delay can have.
Research done in 2001 showed that people talking on cell phones were more likely to miss or react slowly to simulated traffic signals than people who were not conversing on cell phones. The distraction was independent of the type of cell phone used, hands-held or hand-free.
It was the phone conversation the reason of distraction. Handling the phone in case of a hands-held device caused additional impairment.
Interestingly, this same study by researchers from the Utah University, showed that a conversation with a passenger, listening to the radio or music from a tape did not impair driving.
In March 2003, a new study from the team of researchers of the University of Utah, confirmed the earlier results. In these experiments, 110 students using a sophisticated simulator drove under various conditions while talking on hand-free mobile phones.
The results showed:
Hands-free cell phone impaired the driver's ability to respond to a vehicle braking in front of them
As traffic density increases, the driving impairment because of hands-free cell phone talking, increases
Cell phone use by drivers increases traffic congestion, it probably increases road rage, it increases air pollution because cell phone users are decreasing the volume of traffic that can flow on a freeway at any point in time
Cell phone conversation inhibits attention to the driving environment
Talking on a cell phone while driving diminishes the recognition memory for objects on the driving scene
Conversation on a mobile phone while driving, decreases driving performance because it diverts attention from the external environment
Drivers that talk on mobile phones, look but don't really see or pay the necessary attention to their driving environment
It is possible that mobile phone talking interferes with the ability of the driver to react to sudden events such as a pedestrian entering the road or a driver of another car doing something wrong
The researchers from Utah University suggested that cell phone talking quadruples he risk for traffic accident and conversation on a hands-free mobile device poses significant risks both to the driver and the general public.
In addition to these data, a study done by the National Road Administration for the Swedish Government and published in June 2003, confirmed the results of the Utah University study.
In this study 48 people in driving simulators, were driving under different conditions for 1,5 hours. Simulated driving was done with and without hands-free mobile devices. During driving people received at least 10 phone calls.
The conclusion of the Swedish experiments is that is the distraction of the phone conversation which causes the problem.
There is today a bulk of evidence converging to the fact that hands-free technology does not decrease the risk of road accidents and that it is an additional factor for less road safety
According to studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some form of driver distraction is a contributing factor in 20 to 30 percent of all crashes.
A driver's first responsibility is to pay attention to the road. Therefore the issue of driver distraction caused by cellular phones becomes increasingly important as cell phone use becomes more prevalent in life in many countries.
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