Cell Phones vs Chatty Passengers in Driving

  1. Moonbear

    Moonbear 11,955
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    While I'm not at all surprised by the results of the study reported in this article with regard to how badly distracted drivers are while on the cell phone, even hands-free, I am a bit surprised it was so much different from having a chatty passenger in the car. I would have thought a passenger would also be a major distraction similar to a cell phone conversation. But, there seems to be a reasonable explanation too.

  2. jcsd
  3. mgb_phys

    mgb_phys 8,809
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    There was something similair when (hand held) cell phones were banned while driving in the UK. People challenged it on the basis that cell phones are no worse than a passenger or radio.
    I think the conclusion was that in talking to someone who is not there you use up more visual processing bandwidth picturing them. While people in the car with you pick up queues about how busy/task-loaded you are and stop talking when you have to concentrate - even non-drivers do this by picking up on your body language.

    The ironic part was that it seems hands-free phones are worse than holding a cell phone. Speaking into thin air to someone who isn't there takes even more processing power than talking into a phone.
  4. Moonbear

    Moonbear 11,955
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    I had been pretty certain on an intuitive level that hands-free use of cell phones was no better than holding the headset, because I never thought the problem had anything to do with holding the phone in one's hand. Now there's a study to back that up.

    But, yes, after reading the explanation, it makes sense that a passenger will be more able to know when to stop talking. Or, for that matter, if the driver's attention drifts, and theirs is still on the road, they can shout out, "Look out!" :biggrin: Someone on the phone is oblivious when to pause and let the driver pay attention.

    I wonder if it may also have to do with how one is communicating. If you're talking on the phone, all communication has to be verbal. Perhaps there are times when verbal communication is too much of a distraction, but one can still be nodding or making other non-verbal gestures that don't interfere with driving and don't take away so much from one's attention to the road.
  5. A good portion of communication exchanged between humans is non-verbal. So maybe there is something you have to make up for over the phone.
  6. stewartcs

    stewartcs 2,244
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    I heard a similar study that concluded the same thing. Essentially a passenger in the car is also aware of the surrounding condtions and will know when to stop talking if conditions require it, whereas a person on the phone will not.

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