The ability to drive safely and concentrate on the road falls considerably whilst talking on a mobile phone, even if the driver is using a hands-free device, which is currently legal in the UK. A new study carried out by Strasbourg University has found that almost a third less information is registered by drivers when speaking on the phone.
A third less information about drivers’ surroundings, including road signs and other vehicles in the area is retained or even noticed when using a mobile phone to talk when compared to driving uninterrupted. Phone users’ awareness on the roads was seen to drop even lower when higher levels of attention were needed, such as when illuminated signs needed to be read. There was also interesting no different between drivers using Bluetooth kids, ear buds, telephone loudspeakers or their phone held in their hand to their ear.
The research was carried out by neuroscientists from Strasbourg University and they questioned 3,500 drivers from a service area on the A11 motorway which is between Paris and Chartres in France. All of the participants were asked a series of questions about signs, monuments and vehicles in the area they had just passed in the last 50km, with a few red herrings thrown in to further test their focus. Motorists who admitted to using their phone were able to recall 30% less information overall in average, with 50% less for events which were dependent on a sustained level of attention such as reading those flashing, illuminated signs. A further 40% using their phones also claimed to have noticed the red herring events which weren’t present, whilst only 9% of those driving uninterrupted recognised the same.
The researchers also carried out a second set of tests in their laboratories which found that drivers’ performance fell significantly when speaking on the phone compared with talking to a passenger. Participants made 50% fewer eye movements when using the telephone and they were also found to spend more time in the passing lane, made more movements sideways and had demonstrably slower reactions than drivers who were conversing with passengers in the car. The volunteers also had their conversations analysed and this found that those speaking on the phone took 124 longer to answer questions which further suggests that conversations were more distracting when the speaker was not in the car with the driver.
With the possibility that the penalty for using a mobile phone when driving could double, this research needs to be taken into real consideration, to ensure we are providing the safest roads for those who drive responsibly. It also adds strength to the case of road safety campaigners who have said that hands free kits are still very dangerous.