Talking on the cell phone makes the young react like the old

Students who talk on their cell phones are turning themselves into 70-year-olds.

A new U study shows that when college-age drivers talk on their cell phones, their reaction times slow to those of senior citizens.

Talking on a cell phone creates inattention blindness-drivers stop noticing things on the road because they are focusing on their conversations.

“When you ask a person if they drive worse when on the phone, they usually say no, but that others do. But it’s them just as much as it is the next person,” said David Strayer, U psychology professor and principal author of the study.

The experiment was done at the U in a driving simulation machine that could measure how long it took to hit the brakes or simulate various driving conditions. The study was published in the winter edition of Human Factors, the quarterly journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. The researchers found that drivers also slow down when they’re on the phone, which creates obstacles for other drivers who are trying to move with the flow of traffic, Strayer said.

The cognitive scientist said most legislation regulating driving while on the cell phone often allows it if the driver is using a hands-free phone, but he said this doesn’t improve driving ability.

“With hands-free phones, you get really whoppingly bad results, and with a hand-held phone, those results don’t get worse,” said David Strayer, professor of psychology.

However, having a conversation with someone who is also in the car can actually improve driving ability because the passenger can warn the driver about potential problems.

“The person on the cell phone doesn’t share situation awareness,” said Frank Drews, assistant professor of psychology and co-author. “A passenger supports you while you drive.”

Strayer currently has a study being reviewed that shows that those talking on cell phones actually have worse response times than those who are driving drunk.

“The drivers on the cell phones actually had higher accident rates,” Strayer said.

When sober seniors talk on the cell phone, their reaction time also slows, but not as badly as predicted.

“We thought that the interaction between an already slower response time would create even worse effects in older drivers, but they are as affected as younger drivers, not worse,” Drews said.

Strayer said he began investigating the effects of cell-phone talking because the last 50 years of aviation research showed that pilots became overloaded with all of the new technology installed in cockpits.

“Cars are becoming the same way. It’s not just cell phones, but CD players and DVD players. You can now watch TV while you drive,” he said.

He said he plans to continue to research the effects various outside influences have on driving ability.

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