General Question

Zaku's avatar

Is talking on the cell phone while driving more dangerous than talking to passengers?

Asked by Zaku (27838points) June 26th, 2008

Has there been a scientific study of the difference? If it is, any theories of why it would be the case?

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32 Answers

scamp's avatar

I agree with PNL’s answer in this thread

Randy's avatar

Not on my opinion. They are both equally distracting. When I’m on the phone, I stay looking ahead but I may take a gander over at my passengers when I talk to them. Cup holders are dangerous too, as well as an iPod/radio… If you wanna get technical that is.

nocountry2's avatar

Yes – you’re not fiddling with a device or holding something to your ear with one hand while talking to passengers

jlm11f's avatar

in case you didn’t read it from my question, i am reposting it here – “that was also brought up and the notion is that having a conversation with a person sitting next to you is okay because you also have an extra pair of eyes looking at the road in front of you. so if the weather conditions are bad, or if something is going wrong, you have someone who can warn you while the person on the phone has no idea what’s going on in your surroundings (and will keep on blabbing).”

Edit – never mind, scamp already linked to it. thanks scamp! :)

xxporkxsodaxx's avatar

I would say that the cell phone would be harder, only because you have to fiddle with a little device with only one hand on the wheel and your eyes off the road occasionally. Of course that is only the case if you do not have bluetooth.

marinelife's avatar

This really isn’t something that is open to debate. The studies have been done. Cell phone talk is far more distracting than talking to passengers. Here is one report excerpt:

“In fact, that “virtual” conversation is considerably more distracting than talking with a passenger, their study shows.

“Cell-phone conversations consume significantly more attention than passenger conversations, resulting in more incidents and crashes during simulated driving,  Rose and Hunton concluded. “More working memory is consumed by cell-phone conversations relative to passenger conversations, and fewer resources are available for the driving task.”

The two professors specialize in studying the effects of technology on learning and awareness. Their article summarizing their research findings, “Cellular Telephones and Driving Performance: The Effects of Attentional Demands on Motor Vehicle Crash Risk,” appeared in the October 2005 issue of the journal Risk Analysis. No outside funding was received for the study, they note.”

Cardinal's avatar

I doubt if it is!

Zaku's avatar

Thanks everyone!

Marina came up with exactly what I was looking for. Very interesting. So there is actually something about the conversation with a person who isn’t there, than with someone who is there in the car with the driver. Though it’s interesting too that they found that people trained to do that (airline pilots) didn’t have so much of a distraction, though it was still measurable over a passenger conversation.

My guess is that imagining the other person uses the same mental processes that we use to imagine world we’re driving through…

This seems to inform PnL’s question about laws, which prompted me to ask (I just didn’t want to hijack your question, PnL).

Trustinglife's avatar

Very interesting. Zaku, I appreciate your real curiosity about this. Oftentimes I find people taking sides in this kind of debate, and I get defensive about using my phone. I like to talk and drive. But outside of dogma and my defensiveness, it is interesting to me that the brain uses a similar mental process to imagine the person as to see the road on which we’re driving. Fascinating.

jlm11f's avatar

@ zaku – i enjoyed your question and i am glad it lead to a proper resolution.

Zaku's avatar

Thanks PnL.
Trustinglife, I know what you mean, except for the part that I’ve not tried driving on the phone (I don’t have a cell phone). However I have noticed and wondered at the effects of other distractions on driving. When I am talking with my passengers, my ability to navigate tends to disappear. Also if I close one eye, more than my depth perception and field of view are lost. I’m amazed how well I manage to drive while sleepy or spacing out and having no real conscious control of my driving – driving and even following common paths becomes automatic. The thing to be aware of in such cases (also with a cell phone) is that you might not realize how much your awareness is reduced.

Bri_L's avatar

Thank you for asking the question. I had asked the question and also thrown in eating as well.

girlofscience's avatar

Yes, the lab that I work in actually researches this very question!!!

It is not my specific project, so I don’t know all of the theory behind it, but they have successfully demonstrated that:
1) talking on a cell phone IS more dangerous than talking to passengers
2) talking on a hands-free cell phone is just as dangerous as talking on a handheld device

I can ask the girl who is in charge of that project tomorrow and get back to you!

Bri_L's avatar

girlofscience, will you marry me. I am sure my wife wont mind! hehe.

Zaku's avatar

Wow, very cool, girlofscience!

girlofscience's avatar

@Bri_L: haha, what made me marriage material? What my lab researches?
@Zaku: Sorry, I completely forgot to ask the girl, and she already left for the day! I’ll ask her tomorrow. :)

Bri_L's avatar

A.. Your beautiful eye
B. The research that your familiar with, first hand, that controdicts a lot of the ”“I know blah blah” is true.
C. Did I mention your beautiful eye?

girlofscience's avatar

Haha. So! I asked the girl in my lab today who is specifically in charge of this project!

She said that the reason hand-held devices are as dangerous as hands-free devices is because of the demands on the attentional system. The act of holding a cell phone has been demonstrated to not require much demand, but the conversation itself requires an amount of attention that detracts from a driver’s ability to attend to the road. It is mostly apparent in situations in which the driver would be required to think fast and make a quick decision (when something goes wrong on the road). When a driver’s attentional ability is limited by other demands on his/her attentional system, his/her ability to respond to a “change” or potential hazard on the road is decreased. This has been demonstrated empirically.

Regarding the other question (why is talking on a cell phone hazardous, but talking to a passenger is not), the research has demonstrated that this has a great deal to do with a passenger’s awareness of the situation on the road. Someone on the other end of a phone conversation cannot see the road in front of the person with whom they are conversation, and they are unaware of the driving situation. Thus, their words and conversation carry on, regardless of the conditions on the road. A passenger, on the other hand, observes the road along with the driver and alters his/her conversation as conditions on the road may change.

marinelife's avatar

@girlofscience Thanks for bringing that back to us. Lurve to you.

Bri_L's avatar

girlofscience RULES! thanks much!!!!!

Zaku's avatar

Awesome answer girlofscience! Thank you – that’s a very interesting similar-but-distinct detailed perspective on the question. Yeah, I can see how someone in conversation with others in the car would be tuned into their responses and context, and someone talking to someone distant might actually suppress their own reactions (particularly on a split-second time scale) because of the lack of confirmation from the person they’re talking to.

Zaku's avatar

Oh, and in considering Bri L’s spontaneous proposal, it occurs to me that women who voluntarily engage in technical analytical discussion particularly involving subjects such as cars, technology and violent accidents, may tend to be unusually compelling and interesting to men. ;-)

Bri_L's avatar

Zaku has it right! That and smart women are a complete turn on!! ;-)

SilverFang77's avatar

It’s not something I’d trust myself to do.

spinelli's avatar

I know this thread is about a year old, but the issue has come up again, which prompted me to do some research. I found this recent study on cell-phone vs. passenger conversations from the Journal of Experimental Psychology. It basically confirms the info relayed by girlofscience, but it’s nice to have a primary source.

Bri_L's avatar

@spinelli – the second link leads you back to this page. Thank you VERY much for the first one.
And WELCOME to fluther!

Zaku's avatar

Cool. Thanks, Spinelli.

john65pennington's avatar

Yes. the main difference is controlling a cellphone with one hand. another reason is reliability of a cellphones service, when on the move. another is an individuals ability to think and drive at the same time. some people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. i think a persons IQ definetely plays a big part in their ability to talk and drive at the same time. physical disabilities also play a big part.

Val123's avatar

I can sense myself being far more distracted if I talk on a cell phone than if I’m having a short conversation with someone in the car. I can feel it, and that’s enough for me.

I’ve seen people walking who are on a cell phone, step out into the street without looking. I’ve never seen two people who are walking and talking do that. Well, they may start to, but the other person holds them back or whatever. That’s a good analogy for the difference in driving and talking on the phone.

I also have a personal theory that when you’re on a phone you lose a great deal of non verbal messages and cues, and you have to try harder to hear inflections and such. Much more distracting.

Listen to Da Man @john65pennington. He could probably tell you more stories about it….


ItsAHabit's avatar

A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that drivers who used mobile phones while driving were four times more likely to crash than those not, a rate equal to that for drunken driving at the .01 level, which is 20% higher than the current .08 in all U.S. states. Additional studies by other researchers have corroborated this general finding.

Dozens of countries now restrict or prohibit cell and other wireless technology

XxBOOMxX's avatar

I don’t know about driving distractions, but I wanna go like my gramps died. Peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like his passengers.

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