Cell-Phones, Distracted Driving, Bans, and Fatalities

Cell-Phones, Distracted Driving, Bans, and Fatalities

Leandro Rocco (University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, USA & Universidade Federal do Ceará, Brazil), Breno Sampaio (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil) and Robson Tigre (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch104


In this article the authors provide a comprehensive overview of the current scientific knowledge on the effects of cell-phone conversation on drivers' performance and safety outcomes. The authors construct a historic perspective in order to provide a well contextualized outline of the main approaches developed in this field, along with their associated findings, which should help the reader to comprehend both methods and results from the early beginning to nowadays. The text is structured so that the authors orderly address the most likely mechanisms through which cell-phones cause distraction, the association between cell-phones and road fatalities, and the effect of cell-phone bans on road safety.
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Despite its impressive processing power and remarkable flexibility, the human brain is known to have severe bottlenecks of information processing that limit our ability to consciously perceive, hold in mind, and act upon immediate visual information (Duncan, 1980; Marois & Ivanoff, 2005). Neuroimaging studies have shown that when two conflicting streams of information must be processed simultaneously, they dispute for processing capacity, leading to what is known as the “dual-task interference” (Klinberg & Roland, 1997; Watanabe & Funahashi, 2014). As a result, the performance of each concurrent attention task tends to decrease, compared to when each task is performed alone.

Since such conclusions have countless implications on almost all of our everyday paradigms, this results have been shifting the attention of many applied sciences to dual-task related problems; mainly with the purpose of enlightening policy debates and keeping safety protocols up to prominent social changes. Among those changes resides the striking proliferation of the use of mobile phones. To put things into perspective, the average use per subscriber has risen from 140 to 740 minutes a month since 1993 (Bhargava & Pathania, 2013). In the United States alone, the number of mobile phone subscribers increased in more than 94,541% in the last three decades (CTIA – The Wireless Association, 2011), completely changing the way people deal with information and manage attention.

We see not only tremendous growth in cell phone subscribers but also an increase in usage of these devices over time by drivers (Loeb et al., 2009). Still in 2004, it was estimated that about 85% of those use one while driving (Clayton, Helms & Simpson, 2006). The abrupt modification it brought to our everyday life made applied researchers engage in determining whether cell-phone conversations could undermine people's safety during activities that require continuous periods of attention, as is driving. In this article we provide an overview of the current scientific knowledge regarding the interaction between cell-phones, distracted driving, bans and fatalities.

To all appearances, Brown, Tickner and Simmonds, from the Medical Research Council, a publicly funded government agency in the United Kingdom, were the first researchers to publish a recognized article in this area (Brown, Tickner & Simmonds, 1969). At the other end of the spectrum, with the relatively recent advent of driving simulators, David Strayer (Strayer & Johnston, 2001; Strayer et al., 2003), at the University of Utah, is undoubtedly the most renowned author in this field nowadays.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Road Safety: Measures and methods for reducing the risk of a person being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Dual-Task Interference: Two tasks interfere with each other when they are attempted simultaneously.

Legislation on Cell Phone Use While Driving: The enactments of a legislative body regarding the use of cell phone usage while driving.

Crash Risk: The risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Use of Cellular Phones While Driving: The act or practice of using or operating a cell phone device while driving a motor vehicle.

Driver Attentiveness: State of being attentive to prevent a motor vehicle accident.

Causal Effect: Causality, relation between two events – cause and effect. The second is a consequence of the first event with no reverse causation.

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