Driving and mobile phones – a deadly combination?

Most is not all EU nations now prohibit use of handheld electronic devices whilst driving, yet virtually every time you take to the road, you’ll see at least one driver with a phone pressed to their ear, or laughing uncontrollably as their hands-free device does its job – either that or they like laughing at their own jokes!

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Studies the world over are all coming to the same conclusion – driving whilst chatting to your mates on your mobile (hands-free or otherwise) is a dangerous game. Even worse of course is texting, as that really does involve your eyes constantly flickering between the road and the phone.

Expert psychologists have concluded that multi-tasking whilst driving is a myth – and the most dangerous of those driving multi-tasks is texting and talking on a mobile phone, according to a new report produced by the British motoring charity Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) and the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

The research focuses on the dangers involved when drivers try and engage in more than one task, indicating this can have a ‘detrimental’ effect on the quality and accuracy of driving performance.

The findings come from a report launched this week titled ‘The battle for attention’, jointly produced by TRL researchers Dr Neale Kinnear and Dr Alan Stevens, and the IAM’s director of policy and research Neil Greig.

Dr Kinnear, who is a principal psychologist in the study of human behaviour and transport, and Dr Stevens, who is chief scientist and research director with internationally recognised expertise in ‘Human-Machine Interaction’, both reviewed existing research behind in-car distractions to understand the various cognitive processes and complexities in driving.

They said texting engages three of the five key areas of distraction to a ‘high’ level – cognitive, visual and manual. A mobile phone conversation also engages three of five areas of distraction to a ‘high’ level – cognitive, audible and exposure time. Driving + phone 5

Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) back in 2013 found 2,995 cases where distraction in the vehicle was listed as a contributory factor to accidents. A further 1,627 cases were listed where distraction outside the vehicle was a contributory factor. Little wonder hand-held phones were banned in that year.

The report says: “Research has confirmed that tasks almost always interfere with other tasks carried out at the same time. The brain never actually focuses on two tasks at the same time – it switches back and forward between them.

“As driving is so complex and requires various cognitive processes, taking on another task when driving can mean a driver is unable to pay sufficient attention to all the activities required for safe driving. This can lead to a processing failure resulting in a loss of control, putting the driver and other road users in physical danger.” Driving + phone 8

Sarah Sillars, IAM’s chief executive officer, said: “This is proof, should it be needed, that multi-tasking and driving simply don’t mix. Whilst there are plenty of distractions to tempt the driver, the individual needs to know that the phone, or internet, or the iPod simply don’t matter – driving is the only activity that should occupy your mind while at the wheel.”

These days there are awareness campaigns aplenty to curtail the use of movies whilst driving, with fines steadily increasing as government’s also try to stamp the practice. While Germany, where a complete ban was imposed way back in 2001, the fine is only€40 per infraction, the UK is £2,500 in the UK, and the penalty in Netherlands is a fine of up to €2,000 or two weeks in jail. They clearly mean business.

Better think twice next time you want to answer that call, it could be very costly indeed.

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