Or Drunk Driver
Who's More Dangerous?
We wanted to know the comparison of those who drive under the influence of alcohol to those who talk or text message while driving.
Interesting comparison. Read..
CELLPHONE DRIVERS & DRUNK DRIVERS
A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver.
The objective of this research was to determine the relative impairment associated with conversing on a cellular telephone while driving.
Epidemiological evidence suggests that the relative risk of being in a traffic accident while using a cell phone is similar to the hazard associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit. The purpose of this research was to provide a direct comparison of the driving performance of a cell phone driver and a drunk driver in a controlled laboratory setting.
We used a high-fidelity driving simulator to compare the performance of cell phone drivers with drivers who were intoxicated from ethanol (i.e., blood alcohol concentration at 0.08% weight/volume).
When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone. By contrast, when drivers were intoxicated from ethanol they exhibited a more aggressive driving style, following closer to the vehicle immediately in front of them and applying more force while braking.
When driving conditions and time on task were controlled for, the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.
This research may help to provide guidance for regulation addressing driver distraction caused by cell phone conversations.
Driven to Distraction
Driving and cell phones don't mix.
The Research Studies
Cell phones may be convenient but there's one place they seem to do more harm than good - and that's behind the steering wheel. Psychological research is showing that when drivers use cell phones, whether hand-held or hands-off, their attention to the road drops and driving skills become even worse than if they had too much to drink. Epidemiological research has found that cell-phone use is associated with a four-fold increase in the odds of getting into an accident - a risk comparable to that of driving with blood alcohol at the legal limit.
But cell phones aren't the only cause for concern. A host of emerging, even more engaging and time-consuming in-car technologies, such as navigational displays and Internet browsers, although developed to make long commutes more productive, also present new challenges for drivers. Cognitive psychologists and human-factors engineers are teaming up to document how these new gadgets affect driving performance and traffic safety.
David Strayer, PhD, of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah has studied cell-phone impact for more than five years. His lab, using driving high-fidelity simulators while controlling for driving difficulty and time on task, has obtained unambiguous scientific evidence that cell-phone conversations disrupt driving performance. Human attention has a limited capacity, and studies suggest that talking on the phone causes a kind of "inattention blindness" to the driving scene.
In one study, when drivers talked on a cell phone, their reactions to imperative events (such as braking for a traffic light or a decelerating vehicle) were significantly slower than when they were not talking on the cell phone. Sometimes, drivers were so impaired that they were involved in a traffic accident. Listening to the radio or books on tape did not impair driving performance, suggesting that listening per se is not enough to interfere. However, being involved in a conversation takes attention away from the ability to process information about the driving environment well enough to safely operate a motor vehicle.
According to Strayer's laboratory research, cell-phone drivers were also more likely to miss traffic signals and often failed to see billboards and other signs. A special eye-tracking device measured where, exactly, drivers looked while driving. Even when drivers directed their gaze at objects on the road (during simulations), they still didn't "see" them because their attention - during a cell-phone call - was elsewhere.
Corroboration came from a 2003 Spanish study that found, in a rare experiment using drivers in real cars on actual highways, that complex phone conversations affected visual scanning and reduced a driver's ability to detect, discriminate among and respond to visual targets - by as much as 30 percent. In this study, by psychologists Miguel Angel Recarte Goldarecena, PhD, of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, and Luis Miguel Nunes González, PhD, of Spain's Administration for Traffic Safety, found equivalent effects from hands-free phone and live in-car conversations. In a 2002 study, they had found that low-demand conversations could be held with no interference. They concluded that the complexity of the conversation was what compromised concentration, whether the driver talked by phone or to a passenger. Thus, distractions inside one's own head can be just as disruptive as environmental distractions.
Strayer and his colleagues compared data for hand-held and hands-free devices and found no difference in the impairment to driving, thus, they say, raising doubts about the scientific basis for regulations that prohibit only hand-held cell phones.
The Utah lab is also measuring the increased risk associated with cell-phone use relative to other real-world activities - most recently, alcohol consumption. Disturbingly, forthcoming research will show that talking on a cell phone (even hands-free) hurts driving even more than driving with blood alcohol at the legal limit (.08 wt/vol). When talking on a cell phone, drivers using a high-fidelity simulator were slower to brake and had more "accidents" than when they weren't on the phone. Their impairment level was actually a little higher than that of people intoxicated by ethanol (alcohol).
Why Does This Happen?
Strayer's lab is building a theoretical account for why cell phone use disrupts driving performance. So far, the evidence points to conversations forcing drivers to withdraw their attention from the visual scene.
Frank Durso, PhD, with Kerstan Mork and John Morris of Texas Tech University, are also attempting to define the nature of the distraction. Is it a specific cognitive function? Is it attention, a broader enabler of cognitive function? More concretely, is it a conflict between the mental image and the current situation, such as an "out-of-the-car" conversation that puts drivers somewhere else mentally? The answer could help policy makers determine how to suitably regulate these devices. With or without legislation, says Durso, it's important to raise drivers' consciousness about the dangers of distraction.
From Research to Real Life
First and most obviously, drivers can make themselves, their passengers and other people on the road safer by putting down their cell phones. The standard advice is park in a safe place to make or take calls; at the very least, pull over to the curb or a highway shoulder if phone communication is truly urgent.
Second, drivers should also be aware that whether a cell phone is hands-on or hands-free makes no difference in terms of mental distraction. According to the research, the mental activity of conversation, whether in person or over the phone, is what takes one's mind off the road. What happens in the head happens regardless of what happens with the hands.
Third, drivers tempted to talk on the mobile might ask themselves if they would drive drunk. If not, they should put down the phone.
Fourth, drivers can pay attention to the nature of distraction in the car - with heightened awareness that new devices aimed at a better driving "experience" can have unintended side effects. Multitasking in or out of the car has been shown in many psychological experiments to divide attention and limit working memory - both essential to safe driving. Especially in the car, drivers should aim for the thoughtful use of any new devices or gadgets.
Finally, drivers need to remember that warnings (and, in some localities, legislation) about cell-phones and driving are prompted by cross-sectional studies of drivers of varied ages, educational levels, and years of driving. Susceptibility to distraction while driving has nothing to do with smarts or skill. In fact, psychologist Durso and his doctoral student Andy Dattel point out that although experts can do many things automatically, detecting hazards is not among them. Thus, Durso says, "anything that disrupts resource management can have consequences even in experts."
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American Psychological Association, February 1, 2006
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Cell Phone Use as Dangerous as Drunken Driving
Drivers who talk on either handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers, according to experimental research conducted by Drs. Frank Drews, David Strayer, and Dennis L. Crouch of the University of Utah.
The study reinforced earlier research showing that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld cell phones
“If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving.” says Dr. Drews.
Both handheld and hands-free cell phones impaired driving, with no significant difference in the degree of impairment. That “calls into question driving regulations that prohibited handheld cell phones and permit hands-free cell phones,” the researchers write.
Details of the Experiment
This controlled laboratory study included 25 men and 15 women ages 22 to 34 who were social drinkers (three to five drinks per week) recruited via newspaper advertisements. Two-thirds used a cell phone while driving. Each participant was paid $100 for 10 hours in the study.
The driving simulator has a steering wheel, dashboard instruments and brake and gas pedals from a Ford Crown Victoria sedan. The driver is surrounded by three screens showing freeway scenes. Each simulated daylight freeway drive lasted 15 minutes. The pace car intermittently braked to mimic stop-and-go traffic. Drivers who fail to hit their brakes eventually rear-end the pace car. Other simulated vehicles occasionally passed in the left lane, giving the impression of steady traffic flow.
Each study participant drove the simulator during three sessions – undistracted, drunk or talking to a research assistant on a cell phone – each on a different day.
The simulator recorded driving speed, following distance, braking time and how long it would take to collide with the pace car if brakes were not used.
The Utah Highway Patrol loaned the researchers a device to measure blood-alcohol levels.
The study found that compared with undistracted drivers:
- Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk.
- Drivers drunk at the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level drove a bit more slowly than both undistracted drivers and drivers using cell phones, yet more aggressively. They followed the pace car more closely, were twice as likely to brake only four seconds before a collision would have occurred, and hit their brakes with 23 percent more force. “Neither accident rates, nor reaction times to vehicles braking in front of the participant, nor recovery of lost speed following braking differed significantly” from undistracted drivers, the researchers write.
The lack of accidents among the study’s intoxicated drivers may have been because it was conducted in morning hours when participants were well rested. However, most drunken driving accidents occur late at night when drivers are fatigued and their average blood alcohol content (BAC) levels are also twice the legal .08 level used in the research.
"Fortunately, the percentage of drunk drivers at any time is much lower," said Dr. Drews, "So it means the risk of talking on a cell phone and driving is probably much higher than driving intoxicated because more people are talking on cell phones than driving while drunk."
Cell phone users have been found to be 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. Other studies have shown the risk is about the same as for drivers with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level.
Dr. Strayer says he expects criticism “suggesting that we are trivializing drunken-driving impairment, but it is anything but the case. We don't think people should drive while drunk, nor should they talk on their cell phone while driving.”
Drews says he and Dr. Strayer compared the impairment of motorists using cell phones to drivers with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level because they wanted to determine if the risk of driving while phoning was comparable to the drunken driving risk considered unacceptable.
“This study does not mean people should start driving drunk,” says Drews. “It means that driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as or maybe worse than driving drunk, which is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by society.”
The study, was supported by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is interested in impaired attention among pilots, and was in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2006 (Summer), 381-391.
- Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., and Crouch, D. L. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2006 (Summer), 381-391; University of Utah. Drivers on Cell Phones Are as Bad as Drunks: Utah Psychologists Warn Against Cell Phone Use While Driving. University of Utah press release, June 29, 2006; (http://unews.utah.edu/p/?r=062206-1) Pa. should restrict drivers’ cell-phone use. (editorial) Delcotimes.com, July 8, 2006 (http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=16883506& BRD=1675&PAG=461&dept_id=18168&rfi=6)
- Strayer, D. L., & Johnston, W. A. (2001). Driven to distraction: Dual-task studies of simulated driving and conversing on a cellular phone. Psychological Science, 12, 462-466.
- McCarley, J. S., Vais, M., Pringle, H., Kramer, A. F., Irwin, D. E., & Strayer, D. L. (2001). Conversation disrupts visual scanning of traffic scenes. Paper presented at Vision in Vehicles, Australia.
- Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., Albert, R. W., & Johnston, W. A. (2001). Cell phone induced perceptual impairments during simulated driving. In D. V. McGehee, J. D. Lee, & M. Rizzo (Eds.) Driving Assessment 2001: International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design.
- Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A. & Johnston, W. A. (2002). Why do cell phone conversations interfere with driving? Proceedings of the 81st Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC.
- Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A. & Johnston, W. A. (2003). Cell phone induced failures of visual attention during simulated driving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 9, 23-23.
- Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Johnston, W. A. (2003). Are we being driven to distraction? Public Policy Perspectives, Vol. 16, 1-2. (Published by the Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Utah)
- Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. (2003). Effects of cell phone conversations on younger and older drivers. In the Proceedings of the 47nd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp.. 1860-1864).
- Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. & Crouch, D. J. (2003). Fatal distraction? A comparison of the cell-phone driver and the drunk driver. In D. V. McGehee, J. D. Lee, & M. Rizzo (Eds.) Driving Assessment 2003: International Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design. Published by the Public Policy Center, University of Iowa (pp. 25-30).
- Strayer, D. L., Cooper, J. M., & Drews, F. A. (2004). What do drivers fail to see when conversing on a cell phone? In the Proceedings of the 48nd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp 2213-2217).
- Drews, F. A., Pasupathi, M., & Strayer, D. L. (2004). Passenger and cell-phone conversations in simulated driving. In the Proceedings of the 48nd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp 2210-2212).
- McCarley, J.S., Vais, M.J., Pringle, H., Kamer, A.F., Irwin, D.E., & Strayer, D.L. (2004) Conversation disrupts change detection in complex traffic scenes. Human Factors, 46, 424-436.
- Strayer, D.L., & Drews, F. A. (2004). Profiles in driver distraction: Effects of cell phone conversations on younger and older drivers. Human Factors, 46, 640-649.
- Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. Crouch, D. J., & Johnston, W. A. (2005). Why do Cell Phone Conversations Interfere with Driving? In W. R. Walker and D. Herrmann (Eds.) Cognitive Technology: Essays on the Transformation of Thought and Society (pp. 51-68), McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC.
- Strayer, D. L. & Drews, F. A. (In Press). Multi-tasking in the automobile. To appear in A. Kramer, D. Wiegmann, & A. Kirlik (Eds.) Applied Attention: From Theory to Practice
Cell Phones and Traffic Fatalities
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
Those who die in traffic accidents are just as dead whether killed by drug use, fatigue, falling asleep at the wheel, alcohol intoxication, or inattention caused by cell phone use while driving.
A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that drivers who used mobile phones while driving were four times more likely to crash than those not, a rate equal to that for drunken driving at the .10 level, which is 20% higher than the current .08 in all U.S. states.
At least 25 countries restrict or prohibit cell and other wireless technology: Israel, Japan, Portugal and Singapore all prohibit mobile phone use while driving. Australia, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Philippines, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Drivers in the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom may use cell phones but can be fined if they are involved in crashes while using such a phone.
Similar life-saving legislation has been proposed in 40 states in the US, but only New York has passed such legislation. A major obstacle has been the cellular phone industry, which strongly opposes any restrictions on cell phone use.
So long as the cellular phone industry strongly opposes the needed legislation and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) remains indifferent or opposed, the prospects for reducing this important cause of needless injuries and deaths are not bright.
- Sundeem, M. Cell Phones and Highway Safety: 2002 State Legislatures Update. Denver, CO: National Council of State Legislatures;
- Connelly, J. Cellular phones can distract you to death. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 16, 2003.