Exploring Why Cell Phone Use Leads to Distracted Driving
UI researchers used computerized experiments that tracked eye movements while asking subjects to answer true or false questions. Respondents who answered the questions took about twice as long to direct their eyes to a new object on the screen than those not required to respond or who were asked no questions at all.
The experiments mimic a scenario in which a driver is using a cell phone or having a conversation with a passenger, says Shaun Vecera, professor in the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and corresponding author on the paper, published online June 5 in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
It’s the first study known to examine attentional disengagement as the possible cause of poor driving while using a cell phone.
“What this study suggests is the reason you should be cautious (when talking on the phone while driving) is it slows your attention down, and we’re just not aware of it because it happens so fast,” Vecera says.
The delay is about 40 milliseconds, or four-hundredths of a second, which may not seem like a long time. But that delay compounds: Every time the brain is distracted, the time to disengage from one action and initiate another action gets longer.
“It’s a snowball effect,” Vecera says, “and that’s what contributes to the problem, because eventually you’re oblivious to a lot that’s around you.”