Research Confirms That Even Use of Hands-free Phones Distracts Drivers

I’ve long held the belief that driving while talking on a cell phone is dangerous, even if one is using a headset or switching on the speakerphone function. (Although I’m as guilty as the next person of talking while driving anyway.) Now some recent research adds more backing to that argument.
Marcel Just, director at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, decided to find out the extend to which non-driving activities distract drivers from their primary task of steering a vehicle down the road.
In a March 9 report that’s been making the rounds online, USA Today explained what happened when 29 volunteer subjects were hooked up to an MRI brain scanner while engaging in a simulated driving exercise. Some of the volunteers were left alone to engage only in the driving exercise. Some were asked to decide, at the same time, whether a sentence they heard was true or false.
Results? The MRI scan recorded a 37 percent decrease in parietal lobe activity in the volunteers who were multi-tasking, USA Today said. (This part of the brain is associated with special processing.) There was also less activity in the occipital lobe, associated with processing visual information. Not surprisingly given the MRI results, the “drivers” who were multitasking veered off the virtual road more often than their single-minded counterparts.
“Certain activities in life are inherently multitasking, but driving and cellphone use isn't something Mother Nature thought about when she was designing our brains,” Just was quoted as saying in the USA Today report.
Just admitted that, while the results clearly indicate that driving and talking on the phone don’t mix, banning all use of cell phones in vehicles is too draconian a measure. It might work better, USA Today said, to instead cut down on accidents by forbidding cell phone use in certain situations—like rush hour or inclement weather—that require a fairly high level of concentration for safe driving.
The report noted that seven parts of the U.S. forbid the use of handheld phones when driving: Connecticut, New York, California, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. No jurisdiction, however, forbids using hands-free devices.
Jonathan Adkins, spokesperson for the Governors Highway Safety Association, thinks hands-free devices lure people into a false sense of security. In the USA Today report, he said there is no evidence that bans on handheld phones have helped prevent accidents.
Where do you stand on this issue?

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