Hands-free Cell vs. Talking to a Passenger

One often sees studies claiming that even talking on a hands-free cell phone impairs driving. The next logical question one asks is whether talking to a passenger presents the same problem.

The answer, apparently, is no, and there’s a study to back up that assertion (citation below).

It seems that actual passengers have a tendency to talk about the traffic situation, helping the driver to focus rather than distracting him/her. Perhaps also, knowing that another person is watching the road provides an incentive to drive better.

Curiously, one of the signs of “bad driving” in the study is leaving extra space between your car and the car in front of you. In my opinion, that’s a sign of better driving — but I don’t believe my difference of opinion on this point affects the conclusion of the study.

This study and its results suggest other follow-up studies:

  1. Would it help to equip cell-phones with cameras, allowing the caller to see the road?
  2. If a passengers are blind-folded, do conversations with them suddenly become distractions?

In any event, I believe that when I tell my wife or daughter that they’re doing something incorrectly, it helps them to drive more safely (even if they think it is annoying).

Article: "Passenger and Cell Phone Conversations in Simulated Driving," Frank A. Drews, PhD, Monisha Pasupathi, PhD, and David L. Strayer, PhD; Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 14, No. 4. k

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