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Friday, August 26, 2005 

Research suggests even driving using hands-free mobiles is dangerous


New research coming out of the University of Illinois suggests that a driver’s ability to keep the car at a fixed speed within a single lane of traffic is impaired when talking and listening on a hands-free mobile phone. This adds even further weight to arguments from organisations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents calling for a complete ban on the use of mobile phones when driving. Recent legislation in the UK has been introduced to stop drivers from using hand held mobile phones while driving, but they have fallen short of pushing for a complete ban.

However the body of research and expert opinion supporting the view that even hands-free use of mobile phones has a detrimental effect on cognitive ability is growing. In November 2004, the University of Illinois carried out a different study which found that drivers using hands-free phones
young and old – struggled to see dangerous scenarios appearing in front of them.
The problem with talking and listening using a hands-free phone, according to Donald Norman a well respected cognitive scientist and human-centred design visionary, is to do with the demands placed upon the driver to be in two different places
When you are on a telephone call, you are doing a very special sort of activity, for you are a part of two different spaces, one where you are located physically, the other a mental space, the private location within your mind where you interact with the person on the other end of the conversation. This mental partitioning of space is a very special facility and it makes the telephone conversation, unlike other joint activities, demanding a special kind of mental concentration.
Norman goes on to suggest:
The part of driving that suffers is the reflective oversight, the planning, the ability to anticipate the actions of other drivers and any special conditions of the environment. That you can still appear to drive normally blinds you to the fact that the driving is less skillful, less able to cope with unexpected situations. Thus, the driving becomes dangerous, the cause being that distracting mental space.
Seeing as drivers in the UK appear to be ignoring the law against hand held use, I wonder how long it will be before we see a full ban on driving using mobile phones actually working. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping a keen eye on the causes cited in the road accident statistics.

Related Links:

Illinois August 2005 research
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Norman’s article
Illinois November 2004 research
BBC News reporting drivers ‘ignoring mobile rules’

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