Drivers talking on cellphones are probably making
your commute even longer, concludes a new study.
Motorists yakking away, even with handsfree devices, crawl about
three kilometres per hour slower on commuter-clogged roads than
people not on the phone, and they just don't keep up with the flow
of traffic, said study author David Strayer, a psychology professor
at the University of Utah.
If you commute by car an hour a day, it could all add around 20
hours a year to your commute, Strayer said.
``The distracted driver tends to drive slower and have delayed
reactions,'' said Strayer, whose study will be presented later this
month to the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy
of Sciences. ``People kind of get stuck behind that person and it
makes everyone pay the price of that distracted driver.''
Strayer's study, based on three dozen students driving in
simulators, found that drivers on cellphones are far more likely to
stick behind a slow car in front of them and change lanes about 20
per cent less often than drivers not on the phone.
Overall, cellphone drivers took about three per cent longer to
drive the same highly traffic-clogged route (and about two per cent
longer to drive a medium congested route) than people who were not
on the phone. About one in 10 drivers is on the phone so it really
adds up, said Strayer, whose earlier studies have found slower
reaction times from drivers on the phones and compared those
reaction times to people legally drunk.
Combine those factors and Strayer figures distracted drivers are
adding an extra five to 10 per cent of time to your commute.
It's simply a matter of brain overload. Your frontal cortex can
handle only so many tasks at one time, so you slow down, Strayer
Generally the study makes sense, but what happens to students in
a simulator may not translate to real world conditions, said Anne
McCartt, senior vice-president of the Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety. Further, she said the study itself points out how
distracted drivers are slower, but is short on calculations on just
how it affects other drivers.
Wireless phone companies encourage people not to talk on the
phone in bad traffic, said Joe Farren, a spokesman for the cellular
phone industry's trade association. But he said he couldn't comment
on the study because he had not had a chance to go over it.