Cell Phones Can "Blind" Drivers
Even Hands-Free Cell Phones Make Drivers Accident-Prone
The study also found that drivers who talked on a cell phone reacted sluggishly and compensated by increasing the distance between themselves and the car in front of them. Researchers say these effects became more pronounced as traffic grew heavier, which suggests that cell phone use may increase traffic congestion as well as even road rage and air pollution.
Other tests measured how cell phone use affected each driver's attention and processing of information by tracking their eye movements and testing their ability to recall billboards encountered. The study found that even when a cell phone user looked directly at a billboard, he or she was less likely to remember it than drivers who did not use a phone.
"Even though you are looking right at something, when you are on the cell phone, you are not as likely to see it," says Strayer.
Researchers say talking on the phone produces a more hazardous form of distraction than conversations between the driver and other passengers in the car because the flow of in-car conversations are still dictated by the external environment, whereas cell phone conversations focus attention internally.
The president of the National Safety Council says this study is important, but more research is needed to fully understand the impact of cell phones and other electronic devices on driver distractions and motor vehicle safety.
"This study sheds additional light on the subject of driver distraction and its causes," says Alan C. McMillan, in a news release, "and it underscores once again that a driver's primary obligation is to give his or her full attention to operating the motor vehicle safely."