You are driving down the highway and the mobile handset rings. There’s one of three things you can do..ignore the call (the safest bet), answer the phone with one hand (thereby committing an offence) or put the phone on hands-free (the legally correct way).
But the problem is, even on hands-free, there’s only one brain processing the information; and for the brain to multitask two active actions simultaneously is very much like clapping with one hand – impossible. Its not that your hands are not on the wheel, its that your mind is not on the road.
There are several factors why cell-phone use is risky.A study by the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah showed that phone conversations appear to take a significant toll on attention and visual processing skills of the brain, very like using most of a computer’s CPU power, leaving very little resources left for other tasks, causing a slowdown in the processing of images seen by the eyes and delayed reaction times.
It may also be that talking on the phone generates mental images that conflict with the spatial processing needed for safe driving. Eye-tracking studies show that while drivers continually look side to side, cellphone users tend to stare straight ahead.
Whatever it is, the National Safety Council in the USA are convinced that drivers talking on a cellphone are four times as likely to have an accident as drivers who are not – they have now called for an all-out ban on using cellphones while driving, including hands-free. And if you think their chances are slim, its worth remembering that they were the prime movers behind the seat-belt laws and drink driving awareness, both of which are now standard rules of the road.
If their recommendations are adopted, there’s a real possibility that the rest of the world will follow and you can then stop wondering why the car in front is moving too slow despite a clear road ahead.