From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Talking and Driving Don’t Mix

Young or old, seasoned driver or newbie, a recent set of studies says that if you’re talking while driving, you’re probably not paying attention.

A pair of experiments published in the journal Human Factors, Fall 2004, sought to determine how conversing while driving affected attentiveness for young and old drivers, and if merely listening to a conversation rather than participating in one could also play a role in driver distraction.

Starting with a group of 14 younger drivers with an average age of 21 and at least one year of driving experience, and 14 older drivers with an average age of 68, researchers reviewed response time of the subjects as each subject carried on a conversation while watching a windshield-size screen showing a Chicago traffic scene. Subjects were asked to press a button any time they noticed a change in the scene.

What researchers found was that young drivers reacted more slowly, or missed altogether, the scene’s crucial changes when they talked; older drivers detected the crucial changes, but no more quickly than they saw scene changes, like billboards, that had no safety impact.

Yet, in comparison, researchers also found that when the subjects merely listened to a conversation, regardless of age, they were able to react as quickly to the scene’s changes as they were able to do when there was no conversation at all.

According to researcher Arthur F. Kramer from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these results don’t bode well for users of hands-free cell phones. “Should you talk on a hands-free cell phone when driving? No. It’s a risk,” he told Reuters Health, stressing the importance of reaction time while driving. “Several seconds can be a lot when you’re driving.”

The next step, Kramer said, will be to determine if talking to car passengers can affect the driver’s attentiveness. Some proponents of hands-free devices have already said that banning hands-free options due to their distractive qualities – drivers can only concentrate on so many things at once; when a driver uses a cell phone with or without hands while driving, some aspect of concentration will naturally give — should translate into banning passengers from cars as well.

Sources: Human Factors; Reuters