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Mobile phone use while driving: just as dangerous as alcohol use?

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August 14, 2007

August 15, 2007 The combination of mobile phones and driving has been cited as a major cause of mobile related accidents by Students Against Destructive Decisions and the Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, who surveyed over 900 American teens about driving habits. While 37% claim that text messaging while driving is more distracting than having friends in the car, or their emotional state, and 14% claim to find talking on a mobile “extremely distracting”, 62% of students said their parents commonly practiced these behaviors while driving. SADD and the LMIG state that this casual parental attitude towards mobile phone usage fosters a neglect of road safety that often leads to terrible conclusions.

Brake, an English road safety charity, believes that the perception of mobile phone usage while driving isn’t just a problem in the family unit. After a 19 year old caused the death of a woman while simultaneously driving and text messaging and was sentenced to four years in prison, Brake claims the blind spot is institutionalized, in the courts and police force. The maximum sentence for dangerous driving in the UK is 14 years.

Drink driving has been the subject of a long and aggressive international campaign, but despite being banned by more than 50 governments worldwide, many argue that phone use remains largely unacknowledged and comparatively un-policed. Studies by the New England Journal of Medicine, the University of Utah and, as always, Mythbusters, have demonstrated that talking on a mobile phone while driving is just as much a liability as intoxication.

In addition to combating the attitudes surrounding the issues, many researchers are attempting to address problems in the mobile phone technology itself. Hands free mobile phone systems are touted by companies as safer; a judgment that is often recognized in road safety legislation. However, researchers at the University of Utah see no difference. After a study that measured the effects of distractions on driving competence, it was concluded that talking on a cell phone creates a form of inattention blindness, muting driver's awareness of important information in the driving scene. This was evident with both hands free and regular mobile phone usage.

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