Daily Archives: June 30, 2008

The impact of cell phone use on driving

As this LA Times article describes, there exists a growing body of research which indicates that, given the finite nature of human cognitive processing power, multi-tasking while driving – especially using a cell phone – contributes to an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.  Nonetheless, some states, now including California, apparently seek to find a politically-acceptable happy medium by outlawing the use of cellular handsets but not the use of hand-free headsets and in-car speakerphone systems.

On Tuesday [July 1, 2008] California motorists — as well as those in Washington state, where a similar law was recently passed — will be prohibited from talking on hand-held cellular phones while driving. Most, however, will likely continue their wireless business using headsets, speakers or other hands-free devices.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the new law will reduce accidents. “Getting people’s hands off their phones and onto their steering wheels will save lives and make California’s roads safer,” he said earlier this month.

That, however, is not what the research finds. Scientists say that when mixing cellphones and driving, the number of hands available for the tasks is not the limiting factor.

Instead, it’s a driver’s attention and processing capacity. These are often stretched beyond safe limits when someone juggles the complex tasks of negotiating traffic and conversing with another remotely.

“There are limits to how much we can multi-task, and that combination of cellphone and driving exceeds the limits,” says David Strayer, a University of Utah psychologist…