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The outsized impact of smart phones on safe driving

The right way to handle smart phones has eluded lawmakers and safety experts for some time. The devices went from novel to ubiquitous relatively quickly. In 2016, 77 percent of Americans owned a smart phone. Many of those Americans cannot or do not resist the temptation to use their phones while driving. Recent research suggests that even drivers who lay their phones aside when they drive might still be at an increased risk of getting into an accident.

Using a smart phone while driving is incredibly dangerous. Studies show that even hands-free talking on the phone takes too much of a person’s concentration off the road. When it comes to texting, browsing or using other applications that require the hands and eyes to complete, the danger should be obvious to anyone. Less obvious, however, is the reduction in ability focus based merely on the presence of a smart phone. Experiments have identified a type of cognitive impairment termed “brain drain” that comes from proximity to a smart device.

Out of sight, out of mind

An experiment was conducted to determine how well several groups of people could complete cognitive tasks. The groups were instructed to either place their phones on their desk, in their pocket or in another room. The participants were surveyed to determine just how dependent they were on their smart phones in day to day life. The people who moved their phones to another room scored higher on the cognitive tasks. The more dependent a person was on the phone, the more they benefited from having it in another room.

What to do with that phone?

The experiment shows that the best solution for people who find themselves distracted by their phones is to leave them at home when they drive. Study participants did not perform better when the phones were placed facedown, or even when they were turned off. Only physical separation allowed them to escape the gravitational pull of their phones. The more the thought of leaving the phone behind intimidates you, the more likely you are to benefit from the separation.

Source: Journalist’s Resource, “Smartphones are distracting even when you’re not using them,” by David Trilling, 10 July 2017

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