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Carnegie Mellon study shows just listening to cell phones significantly impairs drivers
Date:3/5/2008

PITTSBURGH Carnegie Mellon University scientists have shown that just listening to a cell phone while driving is a significant distraction, and it causes drivers to commit some of the same types of driving errors that can occur under the influence of alcohol.

The use of cell phones, including dialing and texting, has long been a safety concern for drivers. But the Carnegie Mellon study, for the first time, used brain imaging to document that listening alone reduces by 37 percent the amount of brain activity associated with driving. This can cause drivers to weave out of their lane, based on the performance of subjects using a driving simulator.

The findings, to be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Brain Research, show that making cell phones hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating distractions to drivers. Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel; they also have to keep their brains on the road, said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging.

Other distractions, such as eating, listening to the radio or talking with a passenger, also can divert a driver. Though it is not known how these activities compare to cell phone use, Just said there are reasons to believe cell phones may be especially distracting. Talking on a cell phone has a special social demand, such that not attending to the cell conversation can be interpreted as rude, insulting behavior, he noted. A passenger, by contrast, is likely to recognize increased demands on the drivers attention and stop talking.

The 29 study volunteers used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. They steered a car along a virtual winding road at a fixed, challenging speed, either while they were undisturbed, or while they were deciding whether a sentence they heard was true or false. Justs team used state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to measure activity in 20,000 brai
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Contact: Byron Spice
bspice@cs.cmu.edu
412-268-9068
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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