Skip to content

Mental Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Why Cell Phones and Driving Don't Mix

Drivers beware: The brain can't multitask as well as you might think.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including questions about what's true and not true in the field of medicine. For our July/August 2012 issue, we interviewed a University of Utah researcher about the danger of using a phone behind the wheel.

Q: I've read that driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as driving drunk. Is that true?

Recommended Related to Mental Health

5 Halloween Character Case Files

If you've decided to dress as a scary, creepy character this Halloween, you're likely to have plenty of company. Witches, zombies, ghouls, vampires, and werewolves are perennial favorites of young and old alike. You should also know, however, that most of these characters have medical and psychological "baggage," say the handful of experts who study them. So don't just take along a vial of blood or some magic potion to make your character more believable. Find out the possible medical and psychological...

Read the 5 Halloween Character Case Files article > >

A: Many people can't imagine not chatting on the phone while driving. But the stories you've heard are TRUE. Cell phone use impairs driving just as much as alcohol.

That's just one of the conclusions by David Strayer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, who has published a series of articles that show driving while talking on a cell phone -- hands-free or not -- is the same as driving with a blood alcohol level of .08, the legal limit.

In one study he found that talking to a passenger improves driving, because "there is another set of eyes on the road, a person who knows to be quiet if the driving gets difficult."

In his most recent research, Strayer found that a conversation that triggers mental imagery -- a description of a vacation, for instance -- is most disruptive. "Driving and mental imagery both use the same part of the brain," Strayer says. "So the imagery will block out the driving environment. People literally won't see what they're looking at."

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine."

Reviewed on May 15, 2012

Today on WebMD

contemplation
Differences between feeling depressed or feeling blue.
lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
 
man screaming
Causes, symptoms, and therapies.
woman looking into fridge
When food controls you.
 
Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
Article
senior man eating a cake
Article
 
Phobias
Slideshow
woman reading medicine warnings
Article
 
depressed young woman
Article
man with arms on table
Article
 
veteran
Article
man cringing and covering ears
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections