Waste Time or Lose Life: Assessing the Risk of Phoning While Driving

Waste Time or Lose Life: Assessing the Risk of Phoning While Driving

Christian Collet (University of Lyon, France & University Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch109


Several actions and/or operations might interfere with those required during car-driving and thus elicit dual task conditions. Those related to driving itself involve manipulating commands or instruments and should be automated during the learning to drive period to ensure safety. Others, independent of driving may be delayed (eating, smoking a cigarette). Finally, others like manipulating a navigation system or holding a cellphone have potential interference more or less related to driving. The authors now step back about 25 years to analyze the interference between driving and phoning and assess the risk associated with it. Epidemiology provides an overview of mobile phone use and hypotheses about accident causes. If hand-held phones obviously interfere with driving actions, the authors should explain why hands-free kits do not solve all safety concerns. Then, analyzing the operations affected by phoning and describing the objective measures revealing impaired driving performance will address this issue. The authors finally highlight the conditions for relatively safe phone use as well as those that should be banned. Deciding to phone or not will thus depend on driving safety education, during which skills of caution should have been learned.
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All of us who have learned to drive should remember how this task was demanding, requiring the coordination of actions and sustained attention. However, automation of motor and cognitive skills gradually mobilizes fewer resources on driving, making the driver more available without impairing safety. These resources are thus freed for related activities such as listening to the radio or chat with passengers. Managing two tasks simultaneously refers unambiguously to the field of dual-task research. Research then raised the question of whether we could perform two tasks simultaneously while maintaining the same efficiency. Early research on dual-task clearly evidenced that performance in either or both task was drastically impaired under these conditions (Welford, 1960). Reaction time (RT) may increase when two cognitive tasks are carried out simultaneously (Pashler, 1994). However, selective effects of dual-task are reported and the task clearly identified as the main task may relatively be preserved if the capacity of processing information is not exceeded. When this capacity is exceeded and when no priority is given, both tasks undergo the deleterious effect of being performed simultaneously (Kramer & Spinks, 1991). The same observation can be made on movement time. When two motor tasks are simultaneously performed the time to carry out both tasks is also increased. Thus, phoning may interfere with driving in terms of sensory inputs and motor outputs. Attention should be shared between visual road information and auditory conversation information. Similarly, holding a cell-phone may interfere with driving actions such as changing gears or keeping the driving-wheel. Research has thus considered phoning while driving as a dual task (Strayer & Johnston, 2001). Dual task generally increases the amount of information to be processed and the central nervous system works as if a bottleneck limits memory retrieval processes as well as motor planning and programming. Interference leads to multiple decision-making elements and has negative impact on driving performance when compared to driving without interference with only one decision-making element (Blanco et al., 2006). Conversely, being engaged in a dual-task is believed to have the potential to increase alertness and thus anticipation in traffic. The aim of this article is to give an overview on the risk of using a cell-phone while driving. Dr. Karel Brookhuis, at University of Groningen (Brookhuis et al., 1991) was among the first authors to publish an experimental study examining this topic. The famous New England Journal of Medicine published the epidemiological study by Drs. Donald Redelmeier and Robert Tibshirani at the University of Toronto (Redelmeier & Tibshiraini, 1997). Drs William Horrey and Christopher Wikens at the University of Illinois (Horrey & Wickens, 2006) provided the first meta-analysis highlighting the impact of cell-phone conversations on driving. Dr. David Strayer (Strayer et al., 2011) at the University of Utah and Dr. Jeff Caird (Caird et al., 2007) at the University of Calgary are among the leading experts in this research area.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Physiological Indices: Set of indices used to assess mental load. The effect of phoning while driving upon strain is usually assessed through heart rate and electrodermal activity changes.

Dual-Task: Situation during which you are requested to manage two different tasks simultaneously.

Conversation Type: Could be within the vehicle when the driver talks with passengers or remote when a mobile phone is use.

Mental Load: Attached to a given task. It results from the interaction between objective task characteristics (stress) associated with the subjective perception task difficulty (strain).

Behavioral Indices: Set of indices used to assess behavior, for example through reaction time and reaction time variations.

Cell-Phone: Mobile phone that could be used by holding the device or by using a hands-free kit.

Experience of Driving: The way in which a driver could be considered skilled. This could be referred to several indices such as the distance drove per year or the duration of driving license.

Driving Conditions: These are related to traffic density or to the place where you drive (rural or urban) and obviously to external conditions (dark, wind, snow, fog …).

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