Cell phone safety would seem largely a matter of common sense. Pay attention, watch the road and you’ll arrive safely.
But researchers who have been studying cell phone-related accidents since the 1990s say there are some surprising ways in which wireless phones endanger drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
For example, the simple act of talking on a cell phone actually decreases the quality of visual information received and processed by the brain. Talk more and you see less!
State legislators are increasingly mandating hands-free cell phone use for drivers. Hands-free devices such as Bluetooth headphones can prevent accidents and save lives, but motorists need to be aware of how these hands-free accessories change the dynamics of driving and talking.
Handsfreeinfo.com, the distracted driving web site, has rounded up some key cell phone safety tips provided by traffic researchers and public safety groups. Here are 15 of the best:
Keep calls short: Drivers increasingly lose focus during lengthy cell phone calls, research shows. If you must use the mobile and the conversation lasts more than 5 minutes, hang up and call back once you’ve parked.
Get to know your phone: Fumbling through a cell phone’s menus while on the road can be extremely dangerous. Practice speed-dialing, redialing and routing calls to voice mail.
Compensate: Some studies equate cell phone driving with drunken driving. Others cite “instant aging” — that a 20-year-old’s reaction times are reduced to those of a 70-year-old’s. A University of Utah study found that when 18- to 25-year-olds were placed in a driving simulator and talked on a cellular phone, they reacted to brake lights from a car in front of them as slowly as 65- to 74-year-olds who were not using a cell phone. These are controversial findings, but everyone agrees that cell phone use impairs driving ability. Be aware that you’re not operating the motor vehicle at 100% of your ability. Compensate with extra caution.
Don’t look at caller ID: Most cell phones can be programmed to provide different ring tones for the people in your directory, such as family and friends.
Two things at a time: Many accidents are caused when cell-phoning drivers attempt to do other things — plugging in a power chord, fumbling for a pen, reading directions. Don’t compound the cell phone safety challenges.
Dial while stopped: If you must dial when the vehicle is in motion, hold the phone level with the windshield. Shift your eyes back and forth from the road to the cell phone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says phone equipped with hands-free headsets and voice-activated dialing systems usually require more time to dial, increasing distractions.
Get an assist: Ask passengers to use their own mobile phones or to do the dialing on yours. Teach older children how to operate your cell phone and your GPS and navigation devices, if possible.
You’ve got voice mail: If a call comes in while you’re in an intersection, entering a freeway or engaged in similar activities, let voice mail answer the cell phone.
Curb your enthusiasm: Numerous studies link the emotional content of a conversation with the level of danger while driving. This also applies to complicated, frustrating or exciting topics. If you’re upset or confused, hang up or pull over in a safe spot.
That’s a stretch: Make sure the cell phone and any accessories such as a hands-free headset are close by while driving.
Just say no: Tom Magliozzi of the popular “Car Talk” radio show says, “For non-emergencies like saying hi — checking in — or making calls you could just as easily make from your home, your office or a parking lot — take our advice and drive now, talk later.” Studies suggest that cell phone users use 60% of their airtime while driving.
Now hear this: Wireless phones often switch from one transmitter station to another during a drive. This leads to varying levels of audio quality. If reception is poor, compensate for the distraction — or better yet, hang up and call back once parked.
Watch out: Researchers in Tokyo found that when attention is focused on listening, vision is affected. The brain can’t give full attention to the visual demands of driving and the audio demands of listening at the same time. Focus on watching the road.
Watch your speed: The Swedish National Road Administration reports that drivers wearing hands-free headsets drive faster than drivers who are holding cell phones. It’s also easy for your speed to creep up while you’re dialing.
Dial in shifts: If you must enter a phone number while driving, don’t do it all at once. Dial a few numbers, return your attention to the road, and then dial the other numbers.
The message: Most of the above applies to text messaging, an even more dangerous activity that’s outlawed for drivers in more than half of the U.S. states. It’s not just kids who are all thumbs: The portability of office-related data has made adults dedicated multitaskers (diverted drivers), text-messaging commuters trying to get a jump on the day’s tasks.