Hands don’t matter in cell phone debate | VailDaily.com

Hands don’t matter in cell phone debate

Lyn Morgan
Vail, CO, Colorado

The debate on cell-phone use while driving is missing the point, according to research from the University of Utah, Johns Hopkins and many other sources.

Much of the debate, including the Colorado legislature and local media reports, revolves around hands-free vs. non-hands-free cell-phone use while driving.

The research is convincing that the likelihood of a car crash while speaking on a cell phone while driving is about the same whether the cell phone is hands-free or not hands-free. In fact, many tests show the impairment is nearly equal to a .08 blood-alcohol level.

The reason is that the action of “listening” makes the difference, not the nature of the instrument. The evidence shows that when participants in the tests concentrated on listening, the part of the brain that controls vision became less active.

In the Utah study, this was called “inattention blindness,” in which motorists look directly at road conditions but don’t really see them because they are distracted by a cell-phone conversation. These drivers are not aware they are impaired. That concentration has been determined to be even more intense when listening to an unseen caller vs. a passenger in the car.

It is as though we have a certain amount of gray matter for concentrated listening, and the more we devote to that the more we take from somewhere else, and while driving, that somewhere else seems to be the ability to focus on the driving requirements of concentration, anticipation and reaction.

All of this is in addition to the distraction issue of finding or adjusting the cell phone, regardless of its type. The debate on cell-phone use should consider the science and quit wasting time on whether it should be hands-free or not hands-free.

Lyn Morgan


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