LONDON, England – New research by psychologists at Engand’s University of Sussex is claiming that driving while talking on a hands-free phone can be just as distracting as talking on a hand-held mobile.
Brake, and UK road-safety organisation, is now renewing its calls for the British government to look again at the laws around driving and cell phone use.
The study, published in the Transportation Research Journal, shows that drivers engaged in conversations that spark their visual imagination are much less able to spot and react to road hazards.
BRAIN CAPACITY CHALLENGED
When drivers involved in the study were asked about a subject that required them to visualise it, they focused on a smaller area of the road ahead and failed to see hazards – even when looking directly at them.
The researchers claim their evidence shows conversations may use more of the brain’s visual processing resources than previously understood. Having a conversation which requires a visual imagination creates competition for the brain’s processing capacity that is also focusing on driving. This results in drivers failing to identify road hazards.
Previous research said as many as 22% of crashes could be caused by some kind of distraction. Drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel, such as using a cellphone, are up to three times more likely to crash.
HANDS-FREE BELIEF ‘DISPROVED’
Also, the effect of talking on a phone while driving has already been shown to be worse than drinking alcohol. Reaction times are 30% slower while using a hands-free phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg/100ml blood (the current limit in England and Wales) and nearly 50% slower than driving under normal conditions.
As well as disproving the popular conception that using a mobile phone while driving is safe as long as it’s hands-free, the researchers added that there were still differences between a hands-free conversation and a chatty passenger.
A passenger will usually moderate the conversation when road hazards arise; someone on the other end of a phone is oblivious to those demands on the driver so keeps talking.
STATE ACTION DEMANDED
Lucy Amos, research advisor for Brake, said: “Distracted driving is a major cause of crashes; pulling the drivers’ attention away from the road and its hazards can lead to a fatal outcome.
“This new study is only the latest of many which adds weight to extending existing legislation to cover all mobile phone use In a vehicle, not just hand-held mobile devices. We call on the government to take action to remove the clear and present danger of mobile phones on our roads.”