Study: Cell Phone Yakkers Worsen Commutes for Everyone

At least two studies have shown that cell phone use while driving quadruples the risk of an accident.

Now, a new study reveals the negative impact cell phones have on traffic — even when no accident occurs.

Stuck Behind Slowpokes

Drivers chatting on cell phones move about two miles per hour slower than those who give their full attention to the road, according to the University of Utah’s Traffic Lab.

Furthermore, they don’t react as quickly to the need to change lanes; in short, they clog up traffic.

If driving more slowly seems like it might be a good thing, Anne McCartt, senior vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is quick to shoot down that notion.

“Even if they are driving more slowly, they are not necessarily safer on the road,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Indeed, the very reason for the slower pace is the distraction among drivers who are dividing their attention between phone conversations and traffic. Thus, McCartt added, the findings of the study make sense.

Competing for Attention

Two miles per hour may not seem like a lot, but to regional traffic managers it may explain at least part of the growing gridlock in such metro areas as New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

In the study simulation, drivers were instructed to obey the speed limit and use turn indicators, but otherwise were left to their own devices. Those who chatted on their phones were about 20 percent less likely to change lanes, the researchers found.

Also, it took them 25 to 50 seconds longer to change lanes when they came up behind slower vehicles. Bottom line? It took the phone-using drivers 15 to 19 seconds longer to complete the 9.2 mile trip, compared to the undistracted ones.

No research agency has been able to set a dollar figure on the losses resulting from accidents caused by cell phone use, according to McCartt.

Similarly, it is unlikely that the gridlock caused by cell phones will ever be quantified.

“This study, though, is part of the bigger picture: Cell phones distract drivers, which is not safe for them — or the rest of us,” she concluded.

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