• Jan 3, 2008
In light of the "backwards-travelling wave" that researchers recently discovered as a cause of congestion, another study has pinpointed a possible major contributor. The University of Utah's Traffic Lab uncovered that drivers paying more attention to yapping on their phone – hands free or not – add to the suffering of us all. Talking while driving leads to drivers who take considerably longer to change lanes when following slow-moving vehicles, drive slower overall, and take longer to arrive at their destination.

Any benefits from slower speeds and more deliberate movements are mitigated by the distraction of a conversation. Thinking along the lines of chaos theory, even the small slowdowns created by poky drivers can grow into exponentially larger traffic problems quickly. Then, when we're all stuck in the stop and go, we call someone else and bitch about how bad the traffic is. Sounds like what they've really discovered in Utah is the fuel for a perpetual motion machine. Car stops, jaw continually flaps.

[Source: Reuters, Photo: hotrodscustomstuff.com]


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  • 36 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      Making a mistake and causing a crash while driving and being distracted by a cell phone or passenger is probably not the biggest risk. The study indicates that distracted drivers slow down and react slower to events. It is this slower driving that impacts the drivers around them that may cause others to drive poorly or have an accident.

      We all have many distractions such as children, coffee, or changing a radio setting that may not easily or comfortably be avoided, but a responsible driver will keep the distractions brief or pull off the road to deal with them. It's the irresponsible drivers that babble on their cell phones in the left lane for the entire commute home that needs to be dealt with.

      I would not like to see cell phones banned from cars. I use mine often (mostly received calls), but always briefly. What I would like to see is some type of technology that reminds the driver that they have been on the cell too long and that their responsibility is to pay attention to the road. Maybe version 2 of SYNC could include this.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Drivers that use cell phones regular or hands free are SELFISH and STUPID people.
      In my opinion even intelligent people are not as smart as they may think they are.

      Jon we can smell people like you a mile away, always an excuse, People like you are THE PROBLEM.

      I see many people on cells or hands free, they are so easy to spot, they are in their own little world and the worst at driving, holding the rest of us hostage till their call is over, like it or not YOU cause Road Rage.

      If there are going to be accidents involving cell phone users I certainly hope that they are the ones that get injured and suffer, I have no feelings for these people at all, you being stupid is your problem I don't want it to be mine, YOU need to learn a lesson.

      I wonder how many parents or grandparents have run over or killed their child while making or taking that important call?

      If I should die on the roads because of a cell phone user I want my wife to prosecute the Driver, Cell Phone Maker and Cell Phone Carrier to the full extent of the law, we need to hurt these thoughtless greedy people.

      Id like to see cell phones BANNED, If drivers had to pull up to use the phone most of them wouldn't answer, they would keep driving, instead they inconvenience the rest of us and put us at risk.

      I know some people are expected to use these while working but in fact they are putting themselves at risk just for their greedy employer, how stupid is that.

      Many other countries have banned cell phone use, it wont happen here, our politicians are bought off.

      This problem will not go away, it will only get worse with text users and laptops, Americans talk about FREEDOM but what freedom do you have when you have a cell phone attached to you 24/7 Get a Life.

      Jon, Don't try to tell me about cell phone accident statistics, I was parked at a busy intersection when hit by a cell phone driver in a Bmw 7 series, My car and others were totaled, I, my wife and in laws suffered but are OK, Its an experience I don't want to live through again, its a health and insurance nightmare, a major worry and inconvenience to say the least, maybe now you can understand why I feel the way I do.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I guess you've never used the radio or any contols in your car then, huh? Statistics show using the radio contorls is even more dangerous than using a cell phone.

        Wow, you must be a maniac then if you've ever even touched the radio in your car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      People talking on cell phones while driving are the most dangerous people on the road, almost more so than drunk drivers. I have to deal with them all the time, pulling right out into the road without even looking. You can even lay down on the horn and they still dont even realize what their doing because they are too busy running their mouth on the phone.

      And I have to disagree with the comment made about it being equally dangerous to talk to a passenger. If you have a passenger in the car with you, thats another set of eyes watching the road. So the passenger sitting beside you looking around while your driving is much safer than somone on a cell phone who cant tell you when your about to wreck.
        • 7 Years Ago
        You are assuming that your passenger is scanning the road for you while you are talking to them. Most likely the passenger is watching the driver while they are talking.

        Again, if you're on a hands free cell phone, your eyes do not need to be on the phone. They will be on the road. It's not like you're text messaging and will drive into a house.

        Most people look at their passengers when they talk to them. Their eyes are off the road. Argue it any way you want, taking your eyes off the road is more dangerous.
      • 7 Years Ago
      If you're talking to someone over the phone you wouldn't be looking anywhere else except where you're driving in the first place. How would you miss the truck?

      You'd only miss the truck if you were talking to your passenger and looking at them.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The difference between yapping on a handfree or with an actual person in car, is that an actual person in car is in the car with you, so when you're about to crash into the 18 wheeler in front of you, they shut up and go "OH SH*T !!!!" with you too. While on cell phone, you're going "OH SH*T" and your spouse is going "okay, so what's for dinner? Burgers or chicken???? hem???"
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ignorant people make up stuff like this.

      Tell me... If I have my cell phone on speaker. What is the difference between that and talking to a passenger in the car?

      In fact, it is SAFER to use a cell on speaker than to talk to a passenger. I bet you that when people talk to passengers in their car, they look over at them.

      People can complain about others on cell phones all they want. I guarantee you they don't sit in their cars in silence when they have passengers.
        • 7 Years Ago
        How often does that passenger have tell you "watch out!" when you're not paying attention to the road? Give me a break.
      • 7 Years Ago
      This research announcement has been making its way around several newspapers over the past few days, and as several of the articles point out that, there are credible critics of the work. How this group makes the jump from "several students in a driving simulator took longer to finish a course when talking on the phone" to "cell phones cause traffic jams" is precarious at best.

      As for cell phone vs. passengers, the research has shown that generally, conversing with passengers is safer because passengers generally pay at least some attention to the road and task of driving, and thus tend to shut up when dangerous or complex maneuvers are taking place, allowing the driver to fully focus on driving. (Of course, there are exceptions, such as teen drivers with teen passengers, small children with parents, etc.)
      • 7 Years Ago
      i think talking to an adult passenger is *slightly* safer than talking on the cell phone, because you do have an extra sets of eyes to help you watch the road while you converse, and 2 pairs of eyes are better than just yourself.

      now screaming kids in the back of the car, that's damn right very dangerous.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's been a long time since I laughed out loud at a blog post. Check out the video of the "circle" traffic study.

      Kristina
      http://www.tucsonrichard.com
      • 7 Years Ago
      What I think is funny, is that there are actually people out there...who are not in a mental institution, that think a hands-free thing is safer than holding the phone.

      People...holding an object to your ear is not the problem...it is the act of engaging in a conversation that is killing people on our roads.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Never been in an accident JD. I drive everyday and I see things that are much worse than people using cell phones. My arguement with this is that people like to blame stuff on cell phones when there is much worse going on.

        You are true that when you said "but rather the brain power that is being diverted from your reaction time to your conversation "

        Now tell me, if you are having a conversation with your passenger, and occasionally looking over, are you not even MORE distracted than if you were talking to someone elsewhere over the phone?

        Perhaps some of you don't know how the Onstar phone works. You push a button on the rearview mirror and say "Call 'name'" or "Dial 'xxx-xxx-xxxx'".

        My whole point is that talking to a passenger in the car is even more distracting. Either way you are having a conversation and your brain is working. At least on a cell phone you have no one to look at or make hand gestures at.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Jon04CTS seems very, very defensive of cellphone use while driving. Definitely been in an accident or two while on the phone, I think, and trying to defend himself..... anyhow. :) I think that there are multiple layers to it, but I notice that I drive less than my best when I'm on a phone, using my Bluetooth or not. I think that holding it to your ear does cause some problem, but it seems to me that having even a "Shallow" conversation on a cell phone seems more difficult than a similar conversation when the person is sitting next to you. Anything you in parallel with driving is taking your mind off the true task at hand: driving. Whether it is adjusting the AC, changing the radio station, or especially using satnav, it's all stealing some concentration. Do some activities take more concentration than others? Of course. I make it a habit to not answer my phone while I'm driving unless the call really cannot wait. It's not a matter of taking your eyes off the road, which is pretty bad, but rather the brain power that is being diverted from your reaction time to your conversation or telling the damn phone what to do, which can be as difficult as the conversation itself! Different people are better or worse at multitasking while driving than others, for sure, but the fact is that everyone will have a slower reaction time to an emergency situation if they are on their phone. Anyhow, I (again) didn't need a study to tell me this fact. If you look at the road around you, it's all over.
        • 7 Years Ago
        So then all cars should have 1 seat and only 1 seat so there are no passengers to look at or talk to.
          • 7 Years Ago
          Absolutely...

          JD, right on the money!
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah, sounds good Jon. I have no argument with you, I just think, from experience, that it takes more to focus on a casual phone conversation than on a casual passenger conversation. The person riding shotgun also has a vested interest (usually!) in not crashing, whereas, on the phone, the other party isn't aware of any potential danger, and therefore can give you no input for better or worse. I can also tell from your post that you are not Italian. Italians use their hands on the phone all the time! Ever been to Italy? :) Anyways, I realize that it's easy to call someone, my phone works the same way on my BT headset, I just find it more distracting for myself personally to have a phone conversation. And in fact, I usually make an intentional effort to NOT look at a person if they're in the car with me, since somewhere I think I read that it takes your brain something like 3-5 seconds to actually focus back on the road. You have a very good point, and I've seen people driving distracted with passengers- but there is a much greater number of people with cell phones than carpooling, unfortunately. I like to think I'm one of the better drivers while under the influence of phone- but this only makes me think of the stat where something like 3/4 of drivers think they are better than average.
      • 7 Years Ago
      To be honest, when I'm talking to a driver, sometimes it really affects my driving. I've missed exits. But sometimes its just fine. I think a hands-free system is the best. Some people are just more prone to accidents with some basic distractions than others.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Cell phone drivers are some of the very worst. In their cell phone world--not the world of driving.
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