Study: Cell phones distract drivers more than passengers do

According to a new study, it's more distracting to have Paris Hilton's Sidekick in the car than it is to have Paris herself.Sorry, Paris.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

According to a new study, it's more distracting to have Paris Hilton's Sidekick in the car than it is to have Paris herself.

Sorry, Paris.

Cell phones distract car drivers more than talkative passengers -- and hands-free devices don't make for safer driving, according to a recent Reuters report on a new study published by the Journal of Experimential Psychology: Applied.

Worse, drivers who use mobile phones are as impaired as those who are legally drunk.

Makes you think twice about checking that voicemail, doesn't it? That's definitely not "hot."

According to PC World, University of Utah researchers used a series of driving-simulation tests to determine that hands-free gadgets such as a Bluetooth headset are just as distracting as holding a phone to your ear. Talking on a cell phone slowed the reaction times of adult drivers aged 18 to 49 to those of senior citizens, according to the study.

So why aren't passengers as bad? Apparently, even the chattiest of companions can point out hazards or remind drivers of upcoming exits, and are more likely to change a conversation (i.e. shutting up or talking less) when driving conditions change. In other words, because they're in the car, they're more likely to notice that the driver needs to focus. After all, their life is in the driver's hands, too.

According to the report:

Two videos from the study show the dangers of driving while phone-chatting. In one, drivers using a hands-free device to talk on the phone inadvertently pass a highway exit that they had been instructed to take. In another, the drivers aren’t on the phone, but rather are chatting with a passenger. These drivers successfully take the rest-area exit because their passengers alert them to do so.

This research reinforces earlier reportsthat just because you're chatting hands-free doesn't mean your driving won't suffer -- although several states have enacted such laws.

So just how safe are hands-free devices, really? And should we ban vehicular cell phones use altogether? What about emergencies? Tell us your thoughts in TalkBack.

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