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Study Finds Drivers On Cell Phones as Dangerous as Drunks

July 5, 2006

University of Utah psychologists have published a study showing that motorists who talk on cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers. The study reinforced earlier research by lead author David Strayer and co-author Frank Drews showing that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld cell phones because the conversation itself – not just manipulation of a handheld phone – distracts drivers from road conditions.Drews says he and Strayer compared the impairment of motorists using cell phones to drivers with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level because they wanted to determine if the risk of driving while phoning was comparable to the drunken driving risk already considered unacceptable.Participants followed a simulated pace car that braked intermittently to mimic stop-and-go traffic. The simulator recorded driving speed, following distance, braking time and how long it would take to collide with the pace car if brakes were not used. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that at any given moment during daylight hours, 8 percent of all drivers are talking on a cell phone.Cell phone use is not the only distraction for motorists. The researchers cite talking to passengers, eating, drinking, lighting cigarettes, applying makeup and listening to the radio as the “old standards” of driver distraction. Multitasking activities now becoming available in vehicles, including Internet access and television, may be substantially more distracting because they are more cognitively engaging and because they are performed over longer periods of time, the researchers say.
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