"We had a hard time convincing them that they just didn't perceive [the exit]," he continued. "This is consistent with previous work which showed 'inattention blindness,' a 50 percent impairment of processing visual stimuli" when conversing on a cell phone, Drews said.
Half of the drivers talking on cell phones missed the exit. In contrast, only three of 24 drivers missed the exit when talking with another person sitting next to them.
"The issue with cell phones is a concept called attention," said Dr. Christopher Colenda, the Jean and Thomas McMullin Dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. "When you're on the cell phone, it appears as though the process of talking with the cell phone may have an impact on one's attention and ability to visualize what's going on in the environment, because you are focused in on an abstract concept called the telephone."
Another expert agreed, adding that the new data was necessary and important.
"The public and, to a lesser extent, the research community has had this question for some time: What's the difference between talking on a cell phone and talking to a passenger?" said Robert D. Foss, director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the Highway Safety Research Center, at the University of North Carolina. "Conceptually, it's clear there's somebody else in the car, who sees what's going on. This documents with evidence how that plays out."
That's not to say that the proverbial "back seat driver" is necessarily a good thing.
"Probably what you need is someone who is engaged at a medium level," Drews said, not someone who is hyper engaged, pointing out your every error.
The message: Talk to a real person, not on the cell phone, while you're steering and shifti
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