Distracted driving comes in many forms, whether it's changing a CD, chatting with a passenger, or turning up the heat. But one of the most ubiquitous forms of distracted driving is talking on a cell phone while driving. Cell phone driving researchers at the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute HumanFIRST program found talking on a cell phone while driving may impair drivers more than driving while intoxicated.
Consider these cell phone driving statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
HumanFIRST researchers have studied the risks associated with talking on a cell phone while driving. Many people mistakenly believe the physical manipulation of the cell phone is the cause of driver distraction. For this reason, a number of states have passed laws requiring drivers to use a hands-free device. However, research has indicated that hands-free cell phones are not more beneficial than handheld cell phones. That's why HumanFIRST research focuses instead on the cognitive aspects of talking on a cell phone while driving.
In their experiments, researchers gathered data from test subjects outfitted with a device to measure brain activity while using a fully immersive driving simulator in the HumanFIRST lab. Half the test subjects drank alcohol to near intoxicating levels as measured with a Breathalyzer.
Participants drove normally along a simulated rural route while researchers measured driver impairment. Drivers who completed either cell phone or in-vehicle tasks during a car-following scenario showed worse performance than those driving without a task—and the drunk drivers doing nothing but driving were less impaired than the sober drivers on a cell phone or playing with the radio.