Mobile mobile users
Should motorists be allowed to talk on their mobiles (sorry, cell phones)? In South Africa this is legal as long as a hands-free car kit is used. Crazy, but true. I drive an automatic car, so I have a hand free anyway. But does this make it any safer?
Safely negotiating traffic, pedestrians and hijackers places a cognitive load on the driver. Not only must accurate judgments be made, but they must be made timeously so that a suitable reaction can be carried out.
By allowing motorists to use a hands-free kit, its assumed that such use will not slow down response times significantly, and that judgment will not be impaired. Based on the drivers I've encountered in Stellenbosch, these are unwarranted assumptions.
Two researchers at the State University of New York, Joy Hendrick and Jamie Switzer, recently conducted a comparative study of hands-on and hands-free cell phone use, and concluded that both modes were equally detrimental to safe driving.
Their experimental setup measured four variables: reaction time, movement time, total response time, and response error. The subjects in the study either had a conversation on a hand-held cell phone, or while using a hands-free kit. A third control group had no conversation during the measurements.
Hendrick and Switzer found that cell phone use, whether hand-held or hands-free, significantly increased reaction time, movement time, and total response time. This is consistent with theory, and with a slew of earlier research. Any type of cell-phone conversation while driving is a bad idea.
Regarding the accuracy of judgment, their findings were interesting. Drivers using a hands-free kit, although responding slower, were not distracted enough to make errors. Score 1 for the hands-free kit. Drivers using hand-held cell phones, however, were noticeably error-prone in their judgements.
The researchers caution that the results of their study are conservative. The test subjects were college-age students, and given that information-processing rates decline with age, one would expect even greater decreases in reaction time amongst young and older adults, and thus a greater frequency of accidents.
So, switch off the damn thing when you're driving, or pull over to take the call (and perhaps pick up a busty hitch-hiker).
nothing more to see. please move along.