There is much focus on the dangers of distracted driving and the tragic consequences that can result from the practice when car accidents occur. In fact, there are many traffic laws and regulations in place to prohibit, or at least curb, the practice of distracted driving. However, according to a recently published news article, a new study is focusing not on the specific dangers of distracted driving, but how limited types of the practice can actually aid in driver safety.
A new study performed by a University of Illinois researcher examined how a driver talking on a cell phone or to a passenger affected how he or she operated a vehicle. A driving simulator and video phone were used in the study to help determine whether whom a driver was speaking with had an effect on his or her safety while on the road. The latest study represents just a small fraction of the research that has been performed on the topic of distracted driving over the years. Previous results seem to show that passengers are usually not distracting to drivers, and can even be helpful if they are experienced drivers themselves.
In the new study, researchers were aiming to uncover what aspects of talking with a passenger affect a driver's abilities most. They contrasted this with talking to someone over a cell phone, an activity that may consider dangerous while driving. They observed various scenarios to complete the study, which included a driver alone, a driver speaking to a passenger, a driver speaking with someone on a hands-free device, and a driver speaking with someone on a hands-free device who could see both the driver and the driving scene over video. Drivers were expected to navigate a highway scene on a simulator, and various factors were recorded. These factors included their speed, distance from other cars, any collisions, and their ability to follow directions. Their speech and vision was also tracked.
The study found the safest scenario to be where the driver was riding alone, which is consistent with previous findings. While it was found that speaking to a passenger could help the driver find road signs, their presence in the car had a significant negative effect on driver safety. The most dangerous scenario by far was talking on a cell phone to someone who could not see the driver or what was going on around the car. This scenario was three times as likely to end up in a car crash.
Interestingly, the scenario where the driver was speaking to someone who could see both the driver and the driving scene resulted in the driver actually being less likely to be involved in an accident. This scenario allowed for the person on the other end of the phone to stop speaking or to caution the driver when something unexpected or dangerous occurred on the road. In this way, conversations over video phone were very similar to having a conversation with a passenger. The key to contributing toward safety is that the conversation partner had an awareness about what was going on in the car.
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