Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hands-free, brain on hold

Hands free mobile use is legal but the evidence shows it is the conversation that is distracting, not holding the phone ...

"There are few more irritating people with whom we must share the roads than those who drive while yakking away on their mobile phones.

There is no shortage of evidence to show how dangerous the practice is.

Cellphone distraction has reportedly contributed to 446 vehicle crashes since 1995, claiming 34 lives and injuring 587 people. Yet the Government has, until now, sat on its hands.

Associate Transport Minister Harry Duynhoven was today to announce ``a proposed partial ban' on using cellphones while driving, but allowing hands-free sets. Why? Nimble-fingered multi-taskers might fancy their ability to do deals by phone at 100km/h.

But it's not the hands that are disengaged. It's the brain. In 2005, a study by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society concluded cellphone distraction caused 2600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States each year.

The study confirmed that the reaction time of cellphone users slowed dramatically, increasing the risk of accidents and tying up traffic. When young adults use cellphones while driving, they're as bad as sleepy septuagenarians.

``If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cellphone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cellphone,' said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer.

It found hands-free cellphones were no safer. Drivers look but don't see, because they're distracted by the conversation. Chatty motorists were less competent than drunken drivers with blood-alcohol levels exceeding 0.08. And earlier this year, Carnegie Mellon University scientists confirmed mobile phone conversions, hands-free included, can make a driver as dangerous as a drunk. They used brain imaging to show listening to a cellphone significantly reduces brain activity and increases driving mistakes.

The pointless distinction banning mobiles, but not hands-free sets, probably comes because the latter would be unenforceable. It's easy enough to spot someone's head glued to the phone while they ignore the rest of the world at speed. Stopping drivers for talking to themselves poses practical policing issues.

But what Mr Duynhoven doesn't seem to appreciate is that many road users have cause to be very afraid of those who phone and drive. And those who do it and who argue that they are as safe as houses would, if they thought much about it, admit the danger, too."    (Continued via Hawkes Bay Today)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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