Study Likens Driving With Cell Phones to Driving While Intoxicated

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    By Shawna Windom

    Drivers using cell phones are increasingly accused of being a threat to safe driving.

    A study at the University of Utah suggests that while cell phones are not a major cause in accidents, their uses contribute to a significant number of automobile related accidents and deaths.

    ?We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit,? said Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology, in a University of Utah news release.

    The study, conducted in a simulator, had drivers measure their reaction times while using cell phones ? hand-held or hands free. Statistical proof failed to conclude an accurate number, but deaths attributed to cell phone-using drivers, substantiates the scientists? study.

    Drews, along with David Strayer, a University of Utah psychology professor, have embarked on a mis-sion to unravel the dangers of this common trend of driving while talk-ing on a cell phone.

    Linda Stockwell, a 48-year-old resident of Idaho, said she is ?unfor-tunately guilty? of talking on her cell phone while driving and can notice a huge difference in her ability to control her vehicle.

    ?I was in a car accident Tuesday night,? Stockwell said, ?and today I was thinking about how, if I had not gotten off my cell phone, I would have been unable to react to the accident the way I did. It could have been a lot worse.?

    Stockwell stated that if legislation were to impose some restriction on cell phone use while driving, she would back it up 100 percent.

    Strayer said, ?If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving. Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive. The level of impairment is very similar.?

    State Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said a regulation is in place, and it is called ?negligence.?

    ?There are unlimited distractions from women putting on makeup to parents taking care of a child to someone eating a hamburger,? Bramble said. ?While I am sympathetic to the frustrations of people driving with cell phones, legislation cannot mi-cromanage the problem. Driving a car is considered an adult situation and government cannot protect us from ourselves.?

    Rachel Thornley, a 24-year-old Provo resident, agreed with the legis-lator. She said cell phones are not the cause of unsafe roads; it?s drivers unable to multitask between safe driving and engaging in a conversa-tion.

    ?It is not necessarily cell phones that are the problem,? Thornley said. ?It is just that people need to prioritize that talking to someone is not as important as paying attention to the car that is right in front of you.?

    Thornley said she knows many people who, absent of a cell phone, are unable to drive safely while carry-ing on a conversation. She feels that these fatalities are due to personal flaw rather than technological advances.

    Both Strayer and Drews acknowledge cell phones as hardly being the only factor that contributes to hazard-ous roads.

    ?The cell phone is a new type of distraction and does not trivialize other distractions,? Drews said. ?The other distractions are just not as common, but it seems like everyone is on a cell phone these days.?

    Simulating the experience of driving on a 10-mile freeway strip, the professors studied the driving behaviors of 40 participants. The professors judged the participants on their ability to react and their overall driving performance. Participants ranged from 18 to 65 years old. Each participant was tested four times: once undistracted, once with a hands-free phone, once with a handheld phone and once intoxicated at the 0.8 percent blood-alcohol level.

    Although shocked by the lack of accidents drunken drivers had in comparison to accidents caused by cell phones, Drews said this is not an excuse for driving while intoxicated.

    Although unable to make a statistical conclusion, Strayer noticed that twice as many accidents occurred in the simulation with the participants using cell phones than those not talk-ing at all. Drivers using phones, whether handheld or hands-free, are reported to be 18 percent slower at hitting their brakes and 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than those undisturbed.

    A 1999 study shows 99 percent of all cell phone owners use their phones while driving. A later report, in 2003, states that 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States are at-tributed annually to drivers using cell phones, according to Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

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