In September California banned text messaging while driving. The ban will “keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, echoing his explanation in June when the state banned handheld cell phone use behind the wheel. Studies suggests the real value of the ban is that it promises to keep more drivers’ attention on the road: Ergonomics research identifies inattention as a major risk factor for accidents.
But it seems cell phones can’t be blamed for all risky inattention. The newsagency Reuters observed in an article about the texting ban that Los Angeles motorists spend hours stuck in their cars on gridlocked freeways. Apart from texting and making calls, drivers in the car-loving state frequently use that time to apply make-up, eat, drink, read, conduct business and have sex.
California is the largest of eight states that have passed the text-messaging ban. Many states now have—or are considering—a ban on cell phone use behind the wheel. Some legislatures water down the rule by restricting only handheld use, but studies shows the risk is the same with hands-free devices.
Researchers led by Professor David Strayer, Principal Investigator at the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah (UU), have shown that the risk factor is the distraction of the calls. The UU team found in experiments using driving simulators that people can become so involved in conversation that they fail to see objects on the road, a condition called “inattention blindness.” And these drivers were found to be blind to their impairment.
Reporting on the impending California ban in June, Britain’s Economist magazine cited a recent Swedish study that found motorists’ reaction times increased disproportionately when they were talking on the phone—regardless of whether they are using a handheld or hands-free phone. The factor that counted was the complexity of the conversation.
The ban that took effect in July failed to include text messaging, which, as well as attention, draws fingers and eyes away from the business of driving.
Sources: Reuters; University of Utah; Economist