Mobile Phones Distract Drivers More than Passengers

WASHINGTON(Reuters) – Mobile phone calls distract drivers far more than even thechattiest passenger, causing drivers to follow too closely and missexits, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

Using a hands-free device does not make things better and theresearchers believe they know why — passengers act as a second set ofeyes, shutting up or sometimes even helping when they see the driverneeds to make a maneuver.

The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:Applied, adds to a growing body of evidence that mobile phones can makedriving dangerous.

Lee Strayer of the University of Utah and colleagues have found in aseries of experiments using driving simulators that hands-free mobilephones are just as distracting as handheld models.

They have demonstrated that chatting on a cell phone can slow thereaction times of young adult drivers to levels seen among seniorcitizens, and shown that drivers using mobile telephones are asimpaired as drivers who are legally drunk.

For the latest study, also using a simulator, Strayer’s team showedthat drivers using a hands-free device drifted out of their lanes andmissed exits more frequently than drivers talking to a passenger. Theytested 96 adults aged 18 to 49.

"The passenger adds a second set of eyes, and helps the drivernavigate and reminds them where to go," Strayer said in a statement.

"When you take a look at the data, it turns out that a driverconversing with a passenger is not as impaired a driver talking on acell phone," he added.

Passengers also simplify conversation when driving conditions change, the researchers wrote.

"The difference between a cell phone conversation and passengerconversation is due to the fact that the passenger is in the vehicleand knows what the traffic conditions are like, and they help thedriver by reminding them of where to take an exit and pointing outhazards," Strayer said.

Strayer’s team has videos showing drivers missing exits while onmobile phone headsets and showing that passengers interruptconversations to help drivers exit correctly

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)


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