Phoning and Driving Is As Dangerous as Drinking and Driving

Perhaps the multitasking that presents the most immediate risk to the most people is driving while speaking on the phone. Phoning while driving is as dangerous as driving while drunk (BAC >0.08). This has been demonstrated in David Strayer’s laboratory at the University of Utah.1 I’m especially proud as I received my doctorate from the University of Utah. His laboratory includes a sophisticated driving simulator.

It is important to realize that it is the attentional demands of phoning that distract from driving that make it dangerous. Somehow it was thought that if phoning were made hands free it would be safe. It does not, as it is just as dangerous. A recent study could not find any benefits of state laws requiring hands free phone well driving. These results were not surprising as the use of hands is irrelevant. State legislatures did a lot of work to produce a law that did not address the problem. Most people tend to be defensive and not accept this finding because it is convenient to phone and drive. For example, they might argue that they converse all the time in their cars and have yet to have an accident. There is a critical difference between conversations that take place within a car and conversations with someone in a distant location. People in the car tend to have situation awareness regarding the driving situation and can even offer help. A remote individual has no idea of what you are dealing with on the road. Or someone might argue that they sometimes have to deal with unruly children while they are driving. I am always amused when someone cites something that is just as dangerous or more dangerous for doing something dangerous. One could argue that texting while driving is more dangerous than phoning while driving, so therefore it is justified. Phoning and driving is dangerous. DON’T DO IT!

It is true that under normal driving conditions with nothing unexpected happening, it is not likely that you will have an accident. However, it is also true that most people driving with BAC’s close to the driving under the influence threshold also would be unlikely to have an accident. People with BAC’s at that level are unlikely to be found weaving across the road. It would be nice if our legal system were consistent; but it appears to be, for the most part, arbitrary.

1Strayer, D.L., & Watson, J.M., (2012).Supertaskers and the Multitasking Brain. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 22-29.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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