In the past few days several media sources have reported the findings of some major studies that show cell phone use is a major cause of accidents on the road. “Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content,” to quote the NYTimes. And yes, this is whether the phone is hands-free or not; it’s engaging in a conversation that causes the trouble.
Sydney and I have often mocked all of the drivers and pedestrians we see either talking or (worse!) texting; they look and act like zombies. This, in one of the few states in the country that’s made illegal cell phone use while driving. Only some of our rancor comes from the fact that we unhappily joined the 45 percent of people who were in an accident caused by cellphone use.
What I find sad is that, despite having read all of these studies and observed all of this behavior, I know I, too, would use a phone while driving if I had one. The impulse to maximize time (I mean, I would read while driving if it looked even slightly more plausible) is so strong that I don’t have any delusions about being above the fray. Although I’m very excited to see that these studies are getting a bit more attention, I am saddened that we don’t address the larger issue: why emphasize efficiency, multitasking, etc., such that our judgment fails us in such important decisions?
I’m always a bit skeptical of the claim that talking on a hands-free cell causes more accidents. It seems this shouldn’t be any more problematic than talking to someone in the passenger seat (which isn’t illegal anywhere) – in fact, probably less so, since there’s no one to look at…
When they’ve tested for the accident discrepancy between drivers with passengers and drivers using hands-free devices, they found that there were some key differences: 1) passengers tended to quiet down when traffic got heavy or conditions worsened 2) passengers often aided drivers by drawing their attention to exit numbers and the like. Some of the studies also suggested that there’s something different, too, about having both conversation partners in physical proximity, keeping the attention in the car rather than “somewhere out there.” The first two, at any rate, seemed plausible to me.
Ohhh…I wondered what the differences were between hands-free cell conversation and in person conversation – makes sense to me.
This was all very interesting to read!