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Is Talking On A Cell Phone While Driving Dangerous?

The new ban on the use of hand-held cell phones by Illinois drivers has raised several interesting questions about the dangers of distracted driving. A new study has confirmed many of the dangers of distracted driving while producing a single surprising result: Talking on a cell phone while driving may not greatly affect the risk of crashing. The study did not address the issue that many critics use to attack the new ban - that of hands-free versus hand held devices. It simply demonstrated that the activities take your eyes off the road are dangerous, particularly for younger drivers.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. It tracked the real-world driving habits of 42 new drivers and 109 adult drivers through the use of video cameras, GPS tracking devices, lane trackers and other technology. The results showed an increase in crashes or near misses of more than 700 percent for young drivers who were dialing a phone or reaching for a cell phone. The crash risk went up roughly 400 percent for new drivers who were getting or sending a text message. Young drivers also showed an increased propensity for crashing when reaching for any object within the car, eating or looking at an object on the roadside.

Experienced drivers saw an increase in dangerous incidents when they were dialing a cell phone. Much of the data was collected before texting gained popularity with older Americans, so the data was inconclusive regarding the impact of texting on driving safety for adults. The experienced drivers generally showed less propensity to submit to distractions as time went on. This was not true of younger drivers.

One scientist who has researched in this area disputed the finding that talking on a cell phone while driving was not dangerous. He suggested that the study was good at identifying activities that caused drivers to swerve or wander out of their lanes, but not capable of identifying cognitive distraction that could cause a driver to run a red light or react too slowly to traffic slowdown.

Source: CBS News, "Distracted driving study: Cell phone dialing, texting dangerous. Talking? Less so.," 2 January 2014

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