Cradle 2A new study on the distractions faced by real-world drivers that analysed thousands of hours of in-car video footage has again highlighted the dangers of taking your eyes off the road to text, dial or reach for a mobile phone.

The research conducted by naturalistic driving researcher pioneers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) compared the effects mobile phone distractions had on both newly licenced teens and experienced drivers.
“Our analysis, which separated talking and dialing tasks, showed that talking on a cell phone was not associated with a significant increase in the risk of a crash among novice or experienced drivers, whereas dialing was associated with an increased risk in both groups,” the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine(freely available) said.
“In contrast to dialing and other high-risk tasks such as texting and reaching for a cell phone or other object, talking on a cell phone does not require the driver to look away from the road ahead.”
The VTTI’s naturalistic studies involve the use of sophisticated in-vehicle video cameras and sensors, which record participants as they normally drive and allows researchers to analyse driver behaviour in the seconds leading up to crashes or near-crashes.
The researchers compared the results of a 2004 study of 109 drivers between 18 and 72 years of age with an average of 20 years’ experience and an 18-month study of 42 newly licenced teens completed in 2008.
The study found the risk of a crash or near-miss among young drivers increased more than sevenfold if they were dialing or reaching for a mobile phone and fourfold if they were sending or receiving a text message.
VTTI chart
Source: NEJM 2013
For experienced drivers, only dialing a cell phone increased the chances of a crash or near miss. However, texting data was not available for older drivers because that study was conducted before texting became widespread.
The results support Australia’s nationwide ban on handheld mobile phone use behind the wheel and demonstrates the need for drivers to make use of Bluetooth and hands-free technology that allows them to keep their eyes on the road.
The dangers associated with reaching for objects in the study also highlights the importance of Australia’s mobile phone cradle law, which encourages drivers to mount their phone in a cradle affixed to the windscreen or dashboard to reduce the distraction caused by looking for their phone or using it illegally in their lap.
The results are also in line with previous naturalistic research carried out by the VTTI that found the most dangerous distractions are those that take a drivers eyes off the forward roadway - such as texting and dialing a mobile phone – while simply talking on a mobile phone hands-free has not been shown to significantly increase crash risk.
In fact, two similar studies by the VTTI in 2009 and 2010 on commercial truck and bus drivers both found that talking and listening on a mobile phone hands-free could actually be a safety benefit for truck or bus drivers - lowering their risk of being involved in an accident.
Researchers have speculated that this is most likely because being involved in a conversation can help drivers stay alert and awake, but does not distract their eyes away from the road, much like chatting with a passenger.
However, the current study’s authors warned that their findings should not be interpreted to suggest that there is no risk associated with talking on a cell phone as driving simulation research has shown that talking on a cell phone can degrade driving performance.
Although legal in every Australian State and Territory, hands-free phone use is not appropriate in all road and traffic situations and if road or traffic conditions are unsafe drivers shouldn’t make or receive calls. See our safe driving tips for more information.
Published 13/01/2014

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