Tomorrow, California drivers must use hands-free cell phone technology if they want to talk and drive at the same time. But studies show that won’t really help.
Scientists say that when mixing cellphones and driving, the number of hands available for the tasks is not the limiting factor.
Instead, it’s a driver’s attention and processing capacity. These are often stretched beyond safe limits when someone juggles the complex tasks of negotiating traffic and conversing with another remotely.
A Carnegie Mellon neuroscientist, Marcel Just, says it, so it must be true.
…subjects who were allowed to navigate undisturbed showed robust activity in the brain’s parietal lobe, a region long associated with spatial sense, distance calculations and judgments that require a person to calculate his whereabouts in a broader physical environment. When the task of listening to the sentences was added, blood flowed to different parts of the brain generally involved in the processing of language. As those language areas came alive, activity in the parietal lobe declined by almost 40%.
While engaged in the listening task, drivers simultaneously listening to sentences veered off the road and onto the shoulder almost 50% more often than those allowed to focus uniquely on driving.
Yikes! That’s pretty scary but completely believeable. I’m hoping, at least, that hands-free cell phone users will be able to swerve more effectively with two hands on the wheel. Fingers crossed!