Monday, March 10, 2008

Study Shows Cell Phones Distract Drivers


Simply listening to a cell phone distracts drivers, a new study concludes, raising questions about the effectiveness of laws that ban only the use of handheld devices while driving.

California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones, but no jurisdiction bans hands-free phones, says Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, representing state and territorial highway safety offices.

Allowing hands-free phones "really gives drivers a false sense of safety," says Adkins, adding that he has seen no evidence that bans on handheld phones have prevented accidents.

As a motorcyclist, I've seen this first hand.

Neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, agrees. Just studied 29 volunteers who used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. The volunteers steered a car along a virtual winding road undisturbed or while deciding whether a sentence they heard was true or false.

Listening while driving led to a "significant deterioration in driving accuracy," Just and his co-authors write in the latest issue of the journal Brain Research. The drivers hit the guardrail and veered out of the center of the lane more often while listening.

And we've seen this have a deathly affect on motorcyclists who have been hit head-on by a driver crossing the center line, and many other right-of-way violations caused by driver inattentiveness.

In the listening situation, MRI brain scans found a 37 percent decrease in parietal lobe activity. The parietal lobe is associated with spatial processing, so it is critical for navigation. Activity also decreased in the occipital lobe, which processes visual information.

"Certain activities in life are inherently multitasking, but driving and cell phone use isn't something Mother Nature thought about when she was designing our brains," Just says.

But banning cell phones outright is "too draconian," Just believes. "I could imagine banning them during rush hour, maybe during inclement weather."

Won't happen. How will anyone enforce this? It will take every person who drives to be aware and have consideration for others on the road. What a concept! Sadly, that ain't gonna happen either.

Besides, say Just and Joy Hendrick, who has found that college-age drivers don't brake as quickly when talking on either a handheld or a hands-free phone, it's unlikely that busy lawmakers would support a ban.

What??? Tell some lawmaker (or businessman) they can't do business over the phone while driving, all to save a life? Pffftttt!!! Get real.

For now, the researchers say, they would just like to raise awareness of the problem. Hendrick, a kinesiology professor at State University of New York-Cortland, says drivers need to ask themselves: "Do I need to make this call?" If the answer is yes, she says, then they should think about pulling over or at least keeping it as brief as possible.

Not "think" about it. PULL OVER! Again, what a concept! It all begins with the man/woman in the mirror. My life depends on it. More rider education won't help me (other than watching out for all you cell phone addicted drivers). My helmet won't save me from you either.

Here's a thought. How about all you self-righteous people who lobbied against smokers, put some effort into lobbying against cell phone drivers who are likely to kill your child, sibling or parent while yakking on their cell phone in their car. Either that, or put a mask on. Same thing as a motorcycle helmet, doncha think?

1 comment:

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