Driving and cell phones

I was listening to WEEI’s broadcast of the ball game in the car this evening (the game in which Boston clinched a playoff slot, woo hoo).  It’s a wonderful world in which I can set my smartphone – better called a pocket computer – to pick up a Boston radio station from the web, a continent away, and plug it into the Aux input of the car radio,.
The announcers interviewed a honcha of AT&T’s New England operation during a pitching change, about a PR program AT&T is putting on to discourage texting and driving.  Good for AT&T, but she made a serious mistake, plugging a speech-to-text/text-to-speech technology for texting.  Do. Not. Do. This. And do not use a hands-free device to talk on the phone in the car; it’s just as dangerous as holding the phone up to your ear and talking.   Think about all the great RBC posts you will miss if you are dead. David Strayer at the University of Utah runs the go-to lab about this and in their latest very interesting paper  we find

Taken together, the data demonstrate that conversing on a cell phone impaired driving performance and that the distracting effects of cell-phone conversations were equivalent for hand-held and hands-free devices….Finally, the accident data indicated that there were significantly [p<.05] more accidents when participants were conversing on a cell phone than in the single-task baseline or alcohol [BAL = .08] conditions.

Why this is true is not intuitively obvious, and I think even Strayer’s group, who recognize that this is a cognitive problem and not an issue of visual distraction by the keyboard, doesn’t quite get it: the psychology through which the cell phone impairs driving is not only the driver’s but also the conversational partner’s, and what the driver intuits about the latter.  Continue reading “Driving and cell phones”