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Talking to Passengers While Driving Is Distracting

The Law Office of George O. Haskell Jan. 13, 2018

Everyone by now knows, or should realize, that distracted driving presents real hazards on our highways. But when most people consider what constitutes a distraction, few mention conversing with others inside of the vehicle.

But research conducted at the University of Iowa that was published on the web in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, an academic journal, determined drivers who were either involved in cellphone conversations or chatting with passengers took longer to see and respond to new objects that appeared in their fields of vision.

Researchers discovered that carrying on conversations leads to “attention disengagement.” This lag affects their abilities to focus on what’s on the road ahead. Their method involved experiments using computers tracking their test subjects’ eye movements while the participants supplied answers to true or false questions. While answering a question, the test subjects took approximately two times as long to focus on new objects appearing on the screen in comparison to those not asked questions.

The intent of the study was to recreate scenarios where drivers talked normally with either a passenger or over the phone, said one author of the study who is also a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the university.

The delay of attention disengagement is roughly four-hundredths of a second (40 milliseconds). While it isn’t a long period, delays compound every time our brains get distracted. When we must disengage from an action to start another, that period of time lengthens, sort of a “snowball effect.”

No one is suggesting that there must be complete silence inside of an automobile on entire rides. But it’s important to keep in mind how distracting everyday activities become when one is behind the wheel.