Study Shows Drivers Using Phones More Distracted Than Drivers Talking to Passengers

A new study weighs in on an ongoing debate: Is talking on a cell phone truly more distracting than talking to someone in the car with you? According to researchers at the University of Utah, the answer seems to be yes. The study, published Dec. 1 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, asked drivers ages 18 to 26 to chat while they used a sophisticated highway driving simulator. They were asked to tell a friend — either over the phone or in the “car” — about a life-threatening situation they’d been in. A control group of drivers not talking at all was also included.

The study found that drivers talking on the phone were four times more likely to miss their exit than drivers talking to a live human in the next seat. About half of the subjects talking on a hands-free phone missed their “highway” exit, while just one-eighth of the drivers talking to a traveling companion missed it. Drivers on the phone were also more likely to drift from their lanes and leave too much following distance between them and the vehicles in front of them. Interestingly, the study found no substantial difference in the driving of people talking to passengers and people not talking at all.

The researchers had several possible explanations for their results. One is “inattention blindness,” a phenomenon in which the brain’s ability to process visual information is actually reduced while the person is talking on the phone or distracted by another abstract task. Another explanation is that passengers in the vehicle can help drivers concentrate by steering or changing the conversation in response to events on the road. In fact, the study found that passengers did talk about traffic with the drivers. It also found that drivers on the phone tended to change the complexity of their sentences and talk more when driving tasks became difficult. Researchers speculated that this might be an attempt to control the conversation, so they didn’t have to pay close attention to it.

I found this study especially interesting in light of the city of Chicago’s 2005 law restricting drivers to hands-free talking only while driving. This is not the first study connecting cell phone use to poor driving, but these rules remain controversial. I sympathize with concerns about freedom, but I believe safety should be the most important consideration. As a Chicago car accident lawyer, I frequently see how physically, financially and emotionally devastating a serious car crash can be. Many of our clients come to us after a death in the family or a serious injury and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, all caused by someone else’s careless driving (with or without a phone involved).

If you’ve been hurt or lost someone in a serious Chicago auto accident, please contact us today to learn more about filing an Illinois auto accident lawsuit.

Contact Information