Talking on the phone while driving is not dangerous, study finds

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 9:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 3:54am


A sophisticated, real-world study confirms that dialling, texting or reaching for a mobile phone while driving raises the risk of a crash or near-miss, especially for younger drivers.

But it produced a surprise: simply talking on the phone did not prove dangerous, as it has in other studies.

The study did not distinguish between handheld and hands-free devices, a major weakness. And even though talking doesn't require drivers to take their eyes off the road, it's hard to talk on a phone without first reaching for it or dialling a number, things that raise the risk of a crash.

For the new study, researchers at America's Virginia Tech Transportation Institute installed video cameras and other sensors in the cars of 42 new young drivers and 109 with an average of 20 years behind the wheel.

The risk of a crash or near-miss among young drivers increased more than sevenfold if they were dialling or reaching for a phone and fourfold if they were sending or receiving a text message. The risk also rose if they were reaching for something other than a phone or eating.

David Strayer, a University of Utah scientist who has done research on this topic, said the findings that merely talking on a phone while driving was not dangerous was "completely at odds with what we found".

The study methods and tools may have underestimated risks because video cameras capture wandering eyes but could not measure cognitive distraction.