New study shows that drivers are more likely to crash – even if they are talking hands-freeChatting on the phone as you drive – even if it using a hands-free set-up – is as dangerous as if you were drunk, according to a top new study.

Psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer found that talking on a mobile while at the wheel caused a major drop in concentration. Drivers took almost a fifth longer to apply the brakes in an emergency and were also less aware of traffic around them.

As a test, the two asked 200 volunteers to ‘drive’ along a motorway using a simulator. They were monitored for braking performance, the distance at which they followed the car in front and they were asked to carry out simple maths and memory tasks. They did this with and without talking on the phone. The study is important, say its authors, because it proves that most people – men or women – can’t give their full attention to more than one thing at a time.

At present, anyone using a hand-held phone is liable to a fine and points on their licence. Using a hands-free phone or one that operates via a headset may not break any laws – although any driver doing so still has to obey laws that require him or her to ‘maintain proper control’

However, while the survey found that most of us can’t do two things at once well, a minority – one in 40 – actually performed better while on the phone. Their reaction times and distance awareness remained as sharp, while their memory abilities improved.

The study, produced by the psychology department of the University of Utah, is published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

Stephen Jury


March 31, 2010