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Car Cell Phone Use More Hazardous Than Chat With Passengers
Date:12/2/2008

Fellow occupants can help keep driving safe, research shows

TUESDAY, Dec. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Drivers talking on a cell phone are more distracted and more prone to error than if they were speaking with a friend sitting next to them in the car, a new report finds.

"We think it is basically a process of joint attention, so when you have a person sitting next to you who is experienced as a driver, that person actually understands something about traffic, supports you actively in dealing with traffic," explained study author Frank Drews, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

"You get very supportive behavior that shows not only in gestures but in switching the conversation . . . to what is happening in the driving environment," he said.

"The central piece here is the idea of shared attention," Drews added.

Studies on the dangers of driving while talking on the cell phone abound, but there has been little on talking to a person in a vehicle.

This study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, involved 41 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 26. Each participant was paired with a friend (not a research assistant) and asked to navigate a 24-mile multi-lane stretch of highway with "real" highway conditions represented on a simulator. Participants were asked to talk about a close-call situation they had experienced.

The conversations were intentionally "naturalistic," with participants phoning people who knew them outside of the context of the study, Drews said.

Participants were presented with three scenarios: driver talking on a hands-free cell phone, driver talking with a passenger, or no conversation at all.

Drivers were told to exit the "highway" at a rest area about eight miles from where they started. Partners were also told of the instruction.

"Drivers ta
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