Cell phone use appears to be a common denominator in most vehicular accidents. Although it’s safe to say that cell phone use is associated with these accidents, studies conducted on the matter don’t seem to prove that cell phone use is the cause per se of such accidents. There is a substantial amount of research, however, that proves how cell phone use affects driving performance. Let’s look at the facts:
Cell phone use degrades driving performance. Eight of the studies examined by Honolulu-based researcher Dean Sugano in his paper Cell Phone Use and Motor Vehicle Collisions: a Review of the Studies had a common outcome: cell phone use generally decreases driver’s responses to highway traffic protocols. The studies involved in Sugano’s research use simulators and on-road test tracts to test driver’s distractions in various conditions.
In one of the studies Sugano reviewed, Ishida and Matsuura (2001) noted that car speed is significantly reduced and the distance from the vehicle in front of that of the cell phone user becomes farther. Ishida and Matsuura also found out that drivers tend to look at the cell phone more at the start of the phone call, instead of having their eyes on the road. The driver’s eye movement and function field view become limited with cell phone use.
Strayer et al (2001) also had the same results in terms of diminished driving performance. Participants of the study who are on the phone missed twice as much simulated traffic signal as to when they were not talking on their mobile phones. Participants also exhibited a slower response time to signals they did see.
Unfortunately, the negative effects of cell phone use go beyond being engaged in conversation. Abdel-Aty (2003) found out that drivers tend to exceed speed limits and fail to stop at traffic lights after the termination of the phone call.
Cell phone use divides mental resources that should be spent on driving. Based on research done by the Ontario Medical Association in 2008 titled Cellular Phone Use and Driving: A Dangerous Combination, cognitive distraction while driving is heightened with cell phone use. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) results revealed that cortical activities in brain areas associated with driving were reduced when subjects had to listen to an auditory component for the experiment. This means that mental resources were drawn away from the brain areas that deal with driving when subjects were listening to someone while driving.
Cell phone use doubles a driver’s likelihood in causing rear-end collisions. According to research by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drivers talking on their cell phone are twice as likely to be involved in rear-end collisions. The study, authored by then Highway Safety Research Center Dr. Jane Stutts and titled Cell Phone Use in NC: 2002 Update Report also found out that the most commonly identified traffic violations for cell phone users involved in collisions were failure to slow down (23.3 %), defying traffic signals (9.6 %), speeding (4.9 %), tailing too closely (3.5%), and failure to give way (3.5 %).
The use of a hands-free cellular phone is no safer than a hand-held phone. Sagano’s research also proved that the use of a hands-free cell phone does not help in minimizing driving distraction and is as “equally distracting as the use of a hand-held phone.” Only Ishida and Matsuura (2001) found out that hands-free phone use is effective to “some extent” although it still degrades driving performance.
Clearly, the best way to avoid road accidents is to just tuck your phone away in the glove compartment or inside your bag as you drive. There’s always plenty of time to get in touch with loved ones, friends and colleagues after driving. Do not compromise your safety. If you need to answer a call, pull over in a safe spot and take the call. NEVER text and drive.