Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Transportation Science

Driving While Distracted More Dangerous Than Supposed 418

Posted by kdawson
from the it's-the-attention-stupid dept.
Science News reports on recent research indicating that any kind of multitasking while driving is dangerous. Not just the obvious distraction of juggling a cell phone, but even talking to a passenger or listening to a book on tape. The researchers used a driving simulator inside an MRI machine to measure brain activations. "Attending to what someone says galvanizes language-related brain areas while simultaneously reducing activity in spatial regions that coordinate driving behavior. This finding suggests that people who combine relatively automatic tasks, such as speech comprehension and car driving, exceed a biological limit on the amount of systematic brain activity they can accommodate at one time, the researchers propose. As a result, the less-ingrained skill — in this case, driving, which is learned long after a person grasps a native language — takes a neural hit."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Driving While Distracted More Dangerous Than Supposed

Comments Filter:
  • by scire9 (1029348) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:14PM (#23362386)
    because I'm driving right now while typing this post on my laptop and I'm not in the least bit distra
    • by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:20PM (#23362436) Homepage Journal
      Huh. I think someone just had an accident outside my apartment.

      and why did that laptop just come flying through the window?

      cted
    • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Saturday May 10, 2008 @03:18PM (#23362912) Homepage
      I have to disagree with at least one point for serious reasons.

      I drove 3 hours a day for 4 years. About 6 months into this I started listening to books on tape, and I found my alertness level while driving was improved significantly. When I was just listening to the radio or my ipod, and it was the same stuff I've heard a thousand times before, my mind drifted. When I started keeping my mind awake and aware with audiobooks, I found I was surprised by traffic around me much less often.

      I touted this to several coworkers who also had long drives, and collectively we all agreed: audiobooks keep your mind more active, and increase your overall awareness of arising traffic situations, we found ourselves in fewer close calls and surprised by things around us less often.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I touted this to several coworkers who also had long drives, and collectively we all agreed: audiobooks keep your mind more active, and increase your overall awareness of arising traffic situations, we found ourselves in fewer close calls and surprised by things around us less often.
        Could it be because you simply were aware of less going on around you? You can't be surprised by that which you completely miss.
        • by somersault (912633) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:42PM (#23363686) Homepage Journal
          I thought that too, but I think he's made a good point. Perhaps his driving while listen to audio books is less attentive than it would be without for short journeys but on long monotonous journeys, your attention can just as easily wander, or you can get sleepy and your attention will be even worse than if your mind is being stimulated by more than just the driving. Personally, the only accidents (not serious ones, just bumper scuffles, two of which were shortly after I learned to drive, and one of which was about 5 minutes after I woke up.. :s ) I've had were when passengers were present. I do tend to rush more if I have passengers too, because I feel a responsibility to get people to their destination quickly, when I'm driving around town by myself I tend to chill out and just enjoy my music.

          I do lots of observation while driving - frequent mirror checks at all 'hazards' (you should be checking your rearview mirror every 10 seconds anyway - that sounds like a lot but it isn't once you do it automatically, and it keeps you aware of what's going on around you in case you need to break suddenly or something like that). The checks are all pretty much built in now, I remember a few times that I've just stopped mid sentence while speaking to someone because I'm approaching a 'hazard' and need to concentrate more on my driving: I learned the police 'Roadcraft' System of Car Control on an advanced driving course a few months ago, and I highly recommend any such courses (mine included defensive driving, skid control and a more rigourous driving test than the standard UK driving test) to people to improve their driving and make even those times when you're driving on 'autopilot' safer.. though it's never really a good thing to let yourself drift into that kind of state while controlling over a ton of metal moving at speed!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nahdude812 (88157) *
          No, what I mean is that I'd be startled by the car in front of me braking less frequently, and not need to slam on my brakes, or realizing I was drifting over the center line, or suddenly looking around me and not being certain if I had missed my exit because I didn't immediately recognize my surroundings.

          Things which I couldn't have helped noticing before because they would have made themselves known to me eventually if I had missed them.
      • by SL Baur (19540) <steve@xemacs.org> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @06:18PM (#23364480) Homepage Journal
        Anecdotal evidence. Here's my counterexample:

        I was once being driven by someone who turned her head directly at me and asked me "Why do you always criticize my driving?" *Boom* - she rearended the guy in front of her. Thank god it was low speed in a parking lot.

        The precedent has been set. Nearly all people drive OK when they've been drinking, some don't with catastrophic consequences and now it's illegal for everyone. If you can justify criminal penalties when driving while drunk (which is reasonable, in my opinion, though not the way it's being enforced now), then similar distractions ought to bear the same penalties. Be consistent!

        I lived near a women's college when I lived in Tokyo. The only time my health was in danger on the sidewalks was from students riding bicycles while talking on cell phones and smoking at the same time.

        The only time I've ever been responsible for an accident was when I was driving with a Big Gulp between my legs and I squeezed the cup a bit too hard and soda spurted out over my lap. Dang. If it had been McDonald's coffee, I'd have been a millionaire.

        While I'm happy that you think books on tape might have helped your driving, it's really the same confidence people have when driving drunk.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jamesh (87723)
        I've held a driving license for around 13 years now, and over the last 5 years have been averaging between 600-900 km per week, mostly 2 hour trips twice a day. I find that it's very easy to let your mind wander once you've been behind the wheel for a while. I noticed that my mind wandered a lot less when I had some music going or something like HHGTTG or Little Britain. There would be far less instances of me suddenly realising that I had no memory of the last 20 minutes, or making a right turn and after c
  • Drunk driving being outlawed, for example. But there comes a time when you just have to trust that people will do the right thing. I don't want to get to the point where we use this as a scientific basis to putting noise detectors in a car and refusing to start if you're talking. I'm already a litle hesitant when it comes to cell phone bans in cars, what will this lead to?

    Perhaps what this really is is more evidence that we should automate as much about driving as is possible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      Perhaps what this really is is more evidence that we should automate as much about driving as is possible.
      No, it's just more evidence that humans are really bad at multitasking.
      Yes, even YOU, Mr. I'm-good-at-multitasking.

      With automation, if you let people depend on those features, they'll just pay less attention to driving and the technology isn't good enough for a driver (and the public) to be both distracted and safe.
    • by Fuzzums (250400) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:28PM (#23362518) Homepage
      I'm totally against (hands full) cellphone calls while driving. I really don't care if somebody wrecks his or her car against a tree while calling and breaks all the bones in their body, but there are other people on the road aswell.

      When on the road there is only one thing that is important and that is safety.
      • by vertinox (846076)
        When on the road there is only one thing that is important and that is safety.

        In that case, there should be no problem in passing a law requiring all calls to be fully automated like the DARPA Grand Challenge by the year 2018.

        I'm just saying... If you really want to go safe that would be the way to go and not outlawing cell phones.
        • by nbert (785663)
          Or - since we are talking about regulation - let's just make Bluetooth SIM Access Profile mandatory (just realized there's no entry about it in the English wikipedia!).

          I'm not too serious about passing laws requiring this, but the technology is IMO the best solution for the problem: The car has a build in cell phone and whenever you are in the car it utilizes the SIM card of your mobile phone to receive and make calls. From a safety standpoint it's great, because the user doesn't have to do anything after
          • by somersault (912633) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @05:02PM (#23363860) Homepage Journal
            As the summary of the article just said, even talking to someone is still pretty bad for your driving (if any unexpected situation arises at least). Having a bluetooth setup is all nice and dandy for keeping your hands free, but talking to someone who isn't even in the car isn't a bright idea considering they can't see around you. Passengers can stop talking or point out dangers to you if a bad situation crops up, but someone on the phone will just blabber away none the wiser. The best thing to do (unless you spend most of your time on the road and have no choice, like if you're a taxi driver, salesman, or a delivery guy or something) is to make all your phonecalls before your journey, or stop whenever you can. That's simply the safest thing, it may not be necessary in the middle of nowhere travelling down a highway where you can see for miles, but in cities and such, unless you're stuck in traffic then you'd be safer just not using a phone at all. If my phone rings when I'm on the way to work, I just ignore it. Reception can pass on any important messages.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by nbert (785663)
              Of course it's still a distraction, but there is a big difference between looking for all the parts you need to receive a call and pushing the answer button on your steering wheel. I must also stress that the mindset (and even culture) of the driver seems to play an important role: If you compare speed limits and other restrictions on an international level you'll see that nations with stricter rules do not necessarily perform better regarding the driver/death ratio (especially the US or Australia).

              The ai
              • I'm living in one of the few countries not featuring a general speed limit. <snip> On the downside it takes more time and costs way more money to get a driver's license.

                If you're living here in Germany, which I guess from your statements, I should point out that having lived in both Australia and Germany, you're right about the general skill of drivers, and the accident rates. However, while you're also right that it's far more expensive to get a license here in Germany (a process I'm going through at the moment, since Germany won't do an "exchange" of an Australian license), it's actually MUCH quicker. To go from "unlicensed" to "full license" in Australia takes around 3 and a half years with various restrictions at the different "levels" along the way.

                The Australian system however does not make for better drivers - even after all the rigamarole, most of them are still pretty terrible. (although, it does vary a lot by city - Sydneysiders drive fast, and it scares people from elsewhere, but in general, I'd far rather drive in Sydney than Melbourne, where many people drive slower, but seem to have NO idea how to use their brakes properly, change lanes, or park.

                An interesting tangent that I've noted is the relationship in countries between driving age and drinking age. In countries where you are allowed alcohol BEFORE you are allowed to operate a vehicle (e.g. Most of Europe), there seem to be a loss less alcohol related driving incidents than countries where you are allowed to drive well before you're allowed to drink (e.g. Australia or US). I put it down to the fact that young drivers in such countries become familiar with the effects of alcohol and are still not confident with driving, so are aware of how scary it would be to drive a car under the influence. But in the other countries (where you can drive first), young people think they are great drivers (having had a couple of years experience) and are not yet that familiar with the effects of alcohol, so are more likely to underestimate its effects when they get behind the wheel.

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by nbert (785663)

                  If you're living here in Germany, which I guess from your statements

                  Bingo! However, it wasn't really hard - I don't know of any other country featuring no general speed limit...

                  since Germany won't do an "exchange" of an Australian license

                  I wasn't aware that they are not interchangeable. I never had a problem but I was just driving in Australia as a tourist with an international license - and I was sweating blood and tears back then because I'm not used to drive on "the wrong side". Might be a different st

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WK2 (1072560)

        I'm totally against (hands full) cellphone calls while driving.

        Everybody is against that. The only debate is whether or not it should be illegal, and you raise a valid point for making it illegal.

        When on the road there is only one thing that is important and that is safety.

        The safest thing is not driving at all. Clearly there are other important things, such as getting from point A to point B in a timely manner. I'm all for improving public transportation, which would help with a lot of problems, including road safety.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          "Everybody is against that."

          No everybody isn't. It's just that the people who are, are obnoxious asses about it, so they whine, complain and make a big scene about it.. If everybody was against it, there wouldn't be any complaining because nobody would be doing it.

          The safest thing is not driving at all.

          That is correct, and that is how you can tell that the vast majority of people complaining about cell phones in cars are hypocrates. If they really cared that much about safety, they wouldn't be d
          • by arminw (717974)
            ....There are a few places where it makes sense....

            Figuring out where those few places are seems to have escaped most planners of transit systems. If public transit makes it possible to get from home to work in less time and at the same expense as a car, then it may be better. Any place where that is not the case will be where the majority of people will spurn public transit.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by somersault (912633)
            I fail to see how you can say someone complaining about cell phone use in cars is a hypocrite. There is a massive difference between a sensible alert driver and someone driving with one hand. It's less of an issue in America where most people drive automatics, but manual cars are in the majority here in the UK, so anyone driving with one hand is causing a major hazard, and yes I've seen plenty of people doing it. When you drive with due care and attention it's extremely unlikely that you will have an accide
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Zoxed (676559)
          > > I'm totally against (hands full) cellphone calls while driving.
          >
          > Everybody is against that.

          Definitely not everyone is where I live !!!

          I live in Germany and cycle everyday to work. Handsfull car phones have been illegal for some time here. My favourite game whilst sitting at a junction waiting for the lights to change is to watch the cars on green going across the junction (I am usually at the head of the queue as I am in the cycle lane). More often than not I will see at least one phone use
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098)
        The problem is that this research shows that the real issue is not so much the hands-full talking (though certainly an issue in manual tranmissions), but lack of attention. Banning regular cell-phone talk in cars is not going to do much to improve safety. It looks like we've hit the area where it's going to take more and more effort to get less and less improvements in safety. I wonder where it will stop?
        • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:04PM (#23363314)

          Banning regular cell-phone talk in cars is not going to do much to improve safety.

          I'm blowing several moderations I've made to write this, but I think it has to be said: the research shows (beyond any reasonable doubt, and in plentiful quantities) that driving while using any mobile phone (hand-held or hands-free, the statistics are near-identical) is worse for safety than driving several times over the legal blood alcohol limit in most jurisdictions.

          Now, you can act on this information in spectacularly the wrong way: the UK introduced a law to ban only hand-held phones, leading to the false impression that hands-free is safe and a rush of marketing implying that from hands-free vendors. The authorities then failed to enforce the new law anyway, to the extent that almost all drivers who admit to using a mobile illegally in studies also say it's because they don't think there's any serious risk of getting caught. That's hardly a deterrent, and in implicitly supporting the use of hands-free (which has near-identical danger stats, remember), if anything it has made things worse.

          But there is no doubt that viewing use of a mobile phone while driving in the same socially unacceptable light as driving while drunk or high should be a good thing for road safety in the long run. Whether the correct answer to this is to make new laws, or simply to run a public awareness campaign to tell people the facts (how many people have you seen on Slashdot claiming, probably quite sincerely, that they can drive just fine while using a phone?), is open to debate.

      • by pwizard2 (920421)
        I can apply the same argument to tinted windows. Since they make a vehicle practically opaque, left turns at unprotected intersections have gotten a lot more dangerous, since I can't see through the car to see if anyone is coming, like I could if the car had regular windows. (plus some of these vehicles are large, which makes it even worse) If they're going to worry about driver distractions, why not ban tinted windows as well?
        • by pwizard2 (920421)

          I can't see through the car to see if anyone is coming,
          Clarification: I meant the car in the turn lane opposite to mine. Sorry about the ambiguousness....
      • Lets ban babies from the car, because they can be more distracting than a cellphone because natural instinct is to give them attention when they cry. No books on tape, NPR, or any other radio programs that cause the driver to think. Also, no eating or drinking... that includes morning coffee on your commute, since spills can distract you.

        People rely on the crutch of the law, when such laws are rarely enforceable - how many people get pulled over for being on a cellphone?, and have marginal effectiveness
      • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @05:39PM (#23364194)

        I'm totally against (hands full) cellphone calls while driving. I really don't care if somebody wrecks his or her car against a tree while calling and breaks all the bones in their body, but there are other people on the road aswell. When on the road there is only one thing that is important and that is safety.
        All of the studies that I have seen about cell phone usage and driving have shown that drivers with "hands free" cell phones are no less distracted (read, "just as likely to hit obstacles and traffice cones) than those using hand held cell phones. So, if you want to be consistent, you should be against all cell phone usage while driving.
    • by Rick17JJ (744063)

      The only time that I occasionally do any minimal multitasking is when I am driving on rural highways or roads with light traffic and few stoplights. Whether I am multitasking or not, I nearly always leave plenty of room between me and the next car so that I have an extra second or two to react to things. In light traffic, I tend to leave even more distance between me and the next car, giving me even more time to react.

      In such circumstances, I might occasionally eat an apple or sip some coffee, but never

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rick17JJ (744063)

        I accidentally hit "Submit" instead of "Preview" before I had a chance to finish checking for errors. I meant to say that I do not do that very often, even when driving in light traffic. I should also add that I am in my mid-50s and have never had an accident.

        I do not like how many of the newer cars have complicated electronics which encourage me to take my eyes off the road when driving. Back in the 1970s, my cars few controls were all large easy to find knobs, buttons and levers. Of course, I could

    • by Zoxed (676559)
      > I'm already a litle hesitant when it comes to cell phone bans in cars, what will this lead to?

      Oh, that one's easy: safer roads ! (speaking as a vulnerable road user)
  • bad drivers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Face it some people are just bad drivers, without any distractions or other cars around, and they will be forever.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015)
      Face it some people are just bad drivers, without any distractions or other cars around, and they will be forever.

      I agree a hundred percent. Fortunately, most of the really bad ones eventually remove themselves from the gene pool. Unfortunately, for each one of them who does so, a new one is just finishing the license exam and getting behind the wheel of a new Tahoe or Yukon. Seriously, the number of mentally-challenged cell-phone-wielding SUV-driving all-wheel-drive-death-machine drivers on the road in
      • Re:bad drivers (Score:4, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @06:33PM (#23364572) Homepage Journal
        You know, SUVs are not the problem. The people behind the wheel are the problem. Most SUVs are worth jack shit and most people who buy them are too stupid to know this. They're purchased by women who feel disempowered and by men who don't want to be seen in a minivan, which would suit their needs better in about 99% of the cases - and just to back that up, sans lift kit an Astro AWD will go places that 4WD pickups get stuck. I can drive an SUV without killing anyone, but I don't, because they're stupid.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    First of, a "driving simulator" inside an MRI does seem rather distracting. Those things are LOUD.

    Secondly, is the summary actually advocating driver's training before a kid even learns to talk?
    • I think I had that, driver's education before speaking. :-)
      In the few times I had a conversation -handsfree of course- I forgot sometimes what we were talking about because I wasn't paying attention to the call.
      I keep my attention on the road while driving, there's no other choice since there's a load of retards on it as well.
  • Multitasking test (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jroysdon (201893) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:20PM (#23362440) Homepage

    While I'm sure everyone's driving ability decreases when multitasking, I don't think it does at the same level.

    They need to have a multitasking test to qualify drivers to do certain things, and everyone else be blocked. I mean this in a joking way, but if I ruled the world I'd make it that way ;-)

    The biggest problem is enforcement. Of course, a police officer can always pull you over for unsafe driving, even if you're not multitasking. But there needs to be some sort of citizen-level enforcement.

    Some way to point a radio-id-tag tracker and zap another car and comment on how it's driving (weaving in traffic, distracted while on the phone, going the limit in the fast lane with two other lanes open, etc.).

    Don't take one person's word for it, wait for a couple dozen complaints - they'll come fast enough - and then yank all their driving privleges, or limit them to driving with no other multitasking going on.

    Ah, only in Jason-land ;-)
    • by Aranykai (1053846)
      Oh I can see the pranks now..

      "But Mom! I swear it was johnny and the gang that zapped me as a bad driver! It was a joke!"
    • Re:Multitasking test (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sanat (702) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:33PM (#23362552)
      An eighteen year old girl from my town who is the valedictorian of her senior class was driving and was also text messaging. She went left of center and hit an older couple head-on killing the wife immediately and the husband died a few days later.

      So here she is... having everything her way (having to choose between Harvard and Yale) and suddenly she is facing the awesome responsibility of killing two individuals through neglect... something that was preventable.

      Yeah... these stories are anecdotal... never-the-less one may learn from others bad judgments and experiences.

      The couple are dead. She is brilliant having taken calculus in the 7th grade... and yet her cleverness can not restore these two humans back to life.

      It will haunt her for her entire life.
      • Somehow I doubt it will actually haunt her for her entire life.

        People like that are typically too self-absorbed to really care about others, even if they pretend to.

        I could be wrong though.
        • People like that are typically too self-absorbed to really care about others, even if they pretend to.
          People like what? Highschool kids? Kids are dumb, REALLY dumb. Even the smart ones!
      • Multitasking is completely overrated. My strong suspicion, coming from watching people who consider themselves awesome multitaskers, is that they're simply better at quickly switching from one task to another. But they don't actually multitask - and if they do, they do it badly. In driving, where things happen in fractions of second, I seriously doubt that they'll be better at multitasking while driving.
        • In driving, where things happen in fractions of second, I seriously doubt that they'll be better at multitasking while driving.

          Sadly, many people don't have an idea how fast they're actually going when they're driving 120 kilometer/hour.

          My driving instructor provided a few theory lessons for a small group of people (~ 10) in preparation for the theoretical exam required to obtain a drivers license.

          At some moment he asked out of the blue: do any of you have a clue how fast you're going in meters per second i

      • First we need to test people for driving while incompetent. Perhaps with real simulators? I shouldn't have been able to learn things about driving from Gran Turismo AFTER having been driving for years. With effective simulators we can simulate high-stress high-risk situations without actual danger, so we can do it in a lot less time.

        Parent seems to confuse being brilliant at calculus with being a good driver. Those are pretty much totally unrelated skills. At 18, she MUST be an inexperienced driver, be
        • First we need to test people for driving while incompetent. Perhaps with real simulators? I shouldn't have been able to learn things about driving from Gran Turismo AFTER having been driving for years.

          ..what did you learn from GT?? That's kind of alarming.

          I also think simulators are no replacement for the real thing. We're talking cars here, not 747s.

          IMHO, very few people actually have a problem controlling their car. Some people do, and they should not be allowed to drive. The vast majority of people have a problem with FOCUS. Listening to music, talking to friends, eating, talking on their cell phones.

          My cardinal rule of whom bad drivers are are if they have a "dangly" hanging from their rearview mirr

  • by Paleolibertarian (930578) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:24PM (#23362474) Journal
    Even so there are levels of risk that are acceptable. Life is risky but we take the risk of taking a shower knowing that we may slip and fall and become injured or die as a result. We drive because going somewhere is worth the risk of having an accident. We listen to books on tape or the radio because the risk of being to distracted is better than being bored. We talk on the cell phone because the communication is worth the risk. These risks are manageable but a life without risk is not worth living. Get over it already. OH, and we eat food at the risk of getting food poisoning because it is better than dying of starvation. However if you don't want to risk it perhaps the world is better off without another idiot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You don't put me at risk by eating food and I sure as hell don't think your conversations are worth any risk on my part. Hang up and drive.
    • When I'm taking a shower I don't have to worry about some idiot pushing me down while I'm in the shower, when I eat I don't pass my fat ass off on someone else. Driving is different than either of those examples, when you're piloting several thousand pounds of metal down the road you are not just responsible for your life whereas in the shower, eating, skydiving, whatever you pretty much take the risk for yourself. So when an idiot talking on a cell phone or texting or whatever kills your family I guess t
    • by dreamchaser (49529)
      What about the innocent person who ISN'T texting/talking/readingthepaper/puttingonmakeup who gets killed when the asshat who is doing so crashes into them?

      Duh.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The company I work for, we're on the road a lot. We're a small company, but as well as software development we do on-site support, consulting and deployment. As a result of this, we tend to be on the road a lot while also talking on our phones (hands free of course).

    All of the people in our organization are better drivers on the phone than most of the average public is otherwise. Why? Because we all have constant experience doing it.
  • by DeathAndTaxes (752424) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:29PM (#23362520) Homepage
    I wonder if the quality of speech coming from the cell phone has anything to do with the amount of processing required. When people can't hear things very well, they start piecing together the dropped parts of the conversation by using some sort of contextual implication. You know what the subject is, so you have a good chance of surmising the dropped words due to context. I would think something similar could be possible for talk radio as well. I think if you listen to one talk show host consistently enough, you develop a better ability to understand what is being said, but a new talk show host can take some getting used to. Just some thoughts.
    • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:21PM (#23363480)
      In my experience, yes. Also, the amount of background noise makes a difference. Following a conversation inside a car while the radio is on is more difficult (to me) than having that conversation in a quiet room.
      Last year I visited some friends in the UK. English is my second language, and I've no trouble understanding any of them (various regional accents notwithstanding). But in a crowded restaurant, I found I could only understand half of what was being said.
  • I can testify (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VeteranNoob (1160115) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:29PM (#23362526)

    When I'm driving with a passenger and conversing with them, I seem to only be able to actually focus on one of those tasks at a time.

    If I am concentrating on the road, I've noticed that I tend to block out the passenger. Sometimes what the passenger says will get processed a good 5 seconds or so later when I'm in safer circumstances (straight driving in my lane). And if I'm instead thinking about what the occupant is saying, I will tend to miss turns that I know full well I need to take.

    During any of this, however, I am driving fairly well. I have never had an accident in my 14 years on the road. But my brain is apparently focusing its full cognitive abilities on the road and traffic, but leaves little else to work with in that regard.

    You can either tell me how your day went, or we can get to the restaurant. But they are somewhat mutually exclusive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vux984 (928602)
      If I am concentrating on the road, I've noticed that I tend to block out the passenger. Sometimes what the passenger says will get processed a good 5 seconds or so later when I'm in safer circumstances (straight driving in my lane). And if I'm instead thinking about what the occupant is saying, I will tend to miss turns that I know full well I need to take.

      I personally think there are two layers of processing for driving. Because if I'm distracted I will make navigation decisions automatically -- e.g. e.g.
  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:30PM (#23362532) Homepage Journal
    While this article seems to state that doing anything passive task while driving impairs the drivers ability to drive at full capacity, I don't think it is as cut and dry as it is being made out to be. I know that I start to lose focus on the road when I am doing NOTHING ELSE but driving. The monotony just turns your brain off to the whole situation... which is why if for whatever reason I can't listen to the radio, I limit my driving to any place I can get to in 10 or so minutes.
    • by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @03:03PM (#23362790)
      On that point, I can't count the number of times i've driven from point A to point B without even being able to remember the intervening time, because I was too engrossed in something I was thinking about... basically driving completely on auto-pilot.

      It gets so bad that sometimes I arrive at a destination I wasn't intending to simply because that's my most common route, and when on auto-pilot my brain just goes where it usually does.

      I've done this during rush hour traffic even. Clearly, some part of my brain is able to function without much higher level control and avoid accidents, and pay attention to traffic, and signs and lights, and everything else. All while my conscious mind is somewhere else.

      Is this unsafe? I don't know.. I've never been in an accident because of it. The few accidents i've had have been the fault of others (getting rear-ended while at a stop light, etc..)

      I *DO* find my driving is worse when i'm talking to someone in the car, because this is not a common practice. Talking to someone on the Cell Phone, i'm typically more paranoid about my driving, over compensating even for my distractedness by ensuring to leave enough room at all times to react.

      I think Most people who are distracted drives don't drive defensively (or offensively).
      • I *DO* find my driving is worse when i'm talking to someone in the car, because this is not a common practice. Talking to someone on the Cell Phone, i'm typically more paranoid about my driving, over compensating even for my distractedness by ensuring to leave enough room at all times to react.

        I think Most people who are distracted drives don't drive defensively (or offensively).

        Honestly, the biggest problem with distracted drivers--and the way you describe yourself--is that they are so erratic! one minute they could be slowing down for no apparent reason, and then when attention ("paranoia" as you call it) snaps back, they speed up to the speed limit again, driving well once more. OR vice versa. Or they start floating over the middle line, only to jerk back, etc. It's the unpredictability of their actions that is the biggest problem for other drivers. You see this kind of behavio

    • I know that I start to lose focus on the road when I am doing NOTHING ELSE

      I started to write a post on a similar topic and my draft was blown away by browser lossage, so I'm glad someone made this point in the interim.

      This is probably a complicated optimization space involving multiple variables, of which this research only explores one, and one should be wary of premature conclusions because they will likely lead to overly political effects ... like someone claiming we would be safer if we all ro

  • by GospelHead821 (466923) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:31PM (#23362544)
    Yes, even just talking to a passenger distracts one while driving. I almost always drive alone. When I have a passenger with whom to gab, especially if it's a topic that I find interesting, I miss exits way more often than I do when there is no conversation. Granted, I consider myself a below-average navigator and only a modest multitasker, but consider this additional anecdotal evidence that seemingly innocuous distractions can lead to deficient driving.
    • by Furry Ice (136126)
      Ditto. I've never been in an accident even though I've been driving for 14 years now, but every single time I've come close or missed an exit or run a red light, it's been because I was talking to whoever was riding with me. Cell phones or anything else that cause you to only have one hand to drive with make you less likely to be able to recover well when you do get yourself into a sticky situation because you are distracted by the conversation. I do note that my sister is much better able to multitask whil
  • by 3seas (184403) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:32PM (#23362550) Journal
    ...of why traffic is so damn slow, everyone is distracted.

    Its must be like a domino effect, one person gets distracted via cell phone and a few others get distracted by the stupid pointless slowdown of the first on a cell phone, so they call traffic advisory... etc... or someone pulls off to the side of the road and causes the same domino effect. And then there are the instigators who have a bumper sticker that reads "I slow for tailgaters" ,,, uh like this is rush hour city traffic.....
    • by Anpheus (908711)
      Far better to slow when being tailgated than risk a crash, which is going to make rush hour tenfold worse for everyone behind them, or to wait until the last possible moment to brake.

      In rush hour traffic, the worst thing that can happen is traffic halts entirely at any point. That halting means everyone has to slow down, the gaps between cars shrink to inches, and accelerating out of that will ripple, -slowly- down the road.

      If you're being tailgated, not slowing down is a safety risk that can also put traff
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:33PM (#23362560)
    I listen to audio books while driving 3hr trips most weekends. What I know for sure is this: whenever there is a challenging bit of driving, I miss a large chunk of the audio book. This is not noticable with music...but with an audio book you can definitely tell that your attention switched to driving the car and not listening to the book because the story moved on and you know.

    So I certainly agree with TFA that we can't multitask listening to speech and driving. But I think they are 100% wrong to assume that the driving (being the "newer" skill) is the thing that suffers. To the contrary - I think we're sufficiently adaptable to drop out the least important task.

    That may be different with live humans (eg a passenger or cellphone) - but for audio books, TFA is clearly wrong.
  • by vertinox (846076) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:42PM (#23362620)
    The only real solution is not legislation but full commercial use of the technology designed in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Then laws will be a moot point when no humans error results in car accidents.

    Give it about 10 years.
  • Solution (Score:3, Funny)

    by DigitalisAkujin (846133) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:48PM (#23362668) Homepage
    Fine, so lets ingrain driving before language!

    Baby cars!
  • ... in this case, driving, which is learned long after a person grasps a native language

    Assuming that in the near future most people will not ever get a grip on a 'native language', their driving capability will not be impeded by their 'ingrained' language skills.

    CC.
  • ... posting on Slashdot while distracted by driving seems to produce some pretty weird material.
  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:51PM (#23362702)

    I don't know about other drivers, but personally, I get BORED when I drive, especially on freeways (traffic or no traffic). And when I get bored, I get SLEEPY. Driving has to be one of the most complex yet automatic tasks that my brain does on a daily basis. So I have to find some way of keeping myself alert and occupied...and that might include listening to NPR (Republicans tend to piss me off, thereby keeping me alert). If I have a passenger in the car (especially a cute one!), I have no problem staying alert.

    But anyway, the point is that I think making sweeping generalizations about the nature and complexity of the driving task is problematic not only from a scientific and cognitive point of view, but also from a social and legal standpoint. People have been driving for, well, since driving was INVENTED--with passengers in the vehicle, or with distractions present. You can't enforce drivers to focus solely on the driving task, and for the reasons described above, even if you did, you'd probably INCREASE the risk, because half of the population will fall asleep at the wheel from the sheer boredom of it.

    But as for those drivers who I've seen sending TEXT MESSAGES while driving--argh, I just want to smack them. Seriously, they aren't even looking at the road. I've had to lay on the horn several times because they're weaving erratically, or stopped in traffic.

  • And yet... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by theeddie55 (982783)
    Driving lessons and the test have to be done with someone talking to you all the time.
  • by ZWithaPGGB (608529) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @03:07PM (#23362826)
    I've seen far more dangerous swerving by Moms in SUVs reaching back to their kids while gabbing to their friends on the phone or in the passenger seat than almost any soused crew leaving a bar.

    At least, in most cases, the majority of other people on the road at the same time as the drunks are other boozers. I find myself having to dodge the Soccer Moms all day long.
    • +1. In this state, driving with passengers under the age of 18 IS a crime if the driver is under 18 him/herself, and IMHO, that's a Good Thing.

      The one on-road accident I've been in over my ten years of solo driving (not counting being bumper-dinged in parking lots) was caused by a teenager with five of his best buddies shoehorned into a Ford Escort (!), blaring the radio while eating Mickey D's while yakking on the cell phone. He pulled out of a subdivision at 35 MPH, swerved across two lanes of rush-hour
  • by ShinmaWa (449201) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @03:09PM (#23362846)
    This research might be true for driving in heavily urban areas, where safe driving requires the processing of many, many variables such as cars all around, lane changes, keeping your blind spots clear, reading road signs, and general navigation so that you end up where you are trying to go.

    However, the OPPOSITE is true for driving long distances on relatively empty freeways in rural areas. Take, for example, the 600 mile stretch from El Paso, TX to San Antonio, TX which consists of an abundance of two things: diddly and squat. If drivers on this stretch has no other stimulus, they are in danger of entering the highly dangerous state of hypnotic disassociation (sometimes calls highway hypnosis or white line fever), where the conscious brain practically shuts down and you go into auto-pilot -- completely unable to react to anything quickly. If something does happen suddenly, the driver "snaps out" and is disoriented for a second. Usually by that point, its already far too late.

    Keeping your mind alert through talking to a passenger or listening to heavy metal on the radio actually helps prevent this condition.
  • It's OK for me to multitask - I'm a better than average [wikipedia.org] driver, as indeed are 90% of people.
  • As a result, the less-ingrained skill--in this case, driving, which is learned long after a person grasps a native language--takes a neural hit."

    The answer is simple. We should teach people to drive at a much younger age, at the same time they learn to talk and walk, for instance.

  • sigh, even more useless expensive micro-science

    clearly, once you've learned to to do anything physical, you shouldn't be over-focusing on what you are physically doing. The real zone is where the physical act happens faster than when you can think about it; just ask any martial artist or race car driver!

    "Don't just think your faster, know you're faster!" ~ Morpheus
  • All this is, is modern Phrenology. We simply don't know enough about the human brain to even come close to being able to decipher what they are thinking about from an MRI.

    Second, people do distracting things while driving. This was the case before cell phones, and this will be the case if cell phones where banned in cars. The whole cell phone in cars is simply a place where the neo-luddites feel they have found a chink in the armor of the evil tech using populace. If this where not the case, we would
  • by syousef (465911) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:52PM (#23363770) Journal
    If you're going to drive while distracted you need to be trained to deal with it.

    Pilots manage a vehicle in 3 dimensions, with no marked paths or lanes. Their aircraft will fall out of the sky if speed is not managed. At the same time they need to make constant radio calls to inform tower, controller or circuit traffic of their position, and follow instructions or rules on where they should be. The difference is that they are trained to manage all the tasks much more thoroughly than drivers are. They're not taught to occassionally glance at their instruments the way a driver is. They're taught to scan them constantly. They're not taught nothing about how to communicate with the tower - they're taught to aviate, navigate and communicate prioritizing in that order.

    What we need is to train drivers to handle the distraction. Want to see if the distraction is going to make them worse. Well first give them some experience dealing with the distraction and give them some guidelines on how to deal with it so they can practice. Only then should they be tested on how safe they are.

    This idea that we can somehow eliminate all distractions and make driving safer and that we should all feel guilty otherwise is nonsense. In the real world, distractions will happen. Kids will fight in the back seat. (correctly dealt with by either pulling over or ignoring them). The radio, conversations, and books on tape are distractions that we need to teach drivers to deal with (it should be part of the practical driving exam). Other distractions are unacceptablet because they take full concentration and should be banned. Anything that takes your eyes off the road for more than a second would fall under this category. So changing a radio station should still be permitted but watching a dvd or texting should not.

    The trouble is in this risk adverse society common sense has been thrown out the window and has been replace with scaremongering and guilt. Moronic!
    • by Free the Cowards (1280296) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @11:32PM (#23366384)
      There's a major difference between flying a plane and driving a car: a fast moving car is always one or two seconds away from utter disaster, whereas a plane nearly always gives its pilot much more time to react.

      Think about driving on the highway. You're driving along at 75MPH at a minimal safe distance from the guy in front of you. He slams on his brakes. You have at best perhaps three or four seconds to slam on yours, and that's assuming that your minimal safe distance is larger than is typical and that your braking system is at least as powerful as his. There are many other situations when driving a car where you only have a second or two to react. A small twitch of the steering wheel can send your car straight into a concrete pillar.

      Flying, on the other hand, is much slower and more cerebral. There are very few events which require immediate reactions. An engine failure on takeoff comes to mind, and other major mechanical failures, as well as suddenly spotting someone nearby on a collision course. But these are all extremely rare events. For most of the trip on most flights, nothing happens which the pilot can't stop and think about for ten seconds first. For the phases of the flight which are really critical in this respect, such as takeoff and landing, the FAA enforces a sterile cockpit rule which basically says that all non-essential communications should be avoided, precisely because of this problem.

      Ultimately I don't think pilots deal with this particularly better than drivers do. It's just that if a pilot is distracted for five seconds it basically never matters, whereas a driver being distracted for five seconds is likely to kill a whole bunch of people.

      One thing that pilots do better and are trained to do better is to actively eliminate distractions. If you ever fly in a small plane, try asking the pilot a bunch of inane questions during some important task, such as landing. If he's any good, he'll tell you to be quiet and ask him again on the ground. If this attitude carries over to driving then he will be a safer driver, not because he can deal with distractions but because he can prioritize and is willing to stop them when he's in a position where he can't deal with them.

      And yes, I am a pilot. One of the things I love about flying is how it doesn't demand that twitchy reflexive on-top-of-my-game attitude that safe driving requires.

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik

Working...