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Driving While Distracted More Dangerous Than Supposed

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the it's-the-attention-stupid dept.

Transportation 418

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."

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I have to disagree (5, Funny)

scire9 (1029348) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362386)

because I'm driving right now while typing this post on my laptop and I'm not in the least bit distra

Re:I have to disagree (5, Funny)

JustShootMe (122551) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362436)

Huh. I think someone just had an accident outside my apartment.

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

cted

Re:I have to disagree (5, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362486)

It was awful nice of you to click on "Post" for him.

Re:I have to disagree (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23363212)

The "Post"-mortum button?

Re:I have to disagree (2, Funny)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362656)

So that's who just ran me down!

Re:I have to disagree (1)

CDMA_Demo (841347) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363152)

no, that would be me.

Re:I have to disagree (1)

digitalheadache (1277790) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362488)

Dude, you just cut me off

Re:I have to disagree (5, Interesting)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362912)

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:I have to disagree (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362950)

I'm there with you buddy

When I drive, I find the joke comes across better when I look the person in the back seat in the eye when making the punch line.

Dear Slashdot readers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362390)

Please tell us yet another anecdote about that one asshole soccer mom driver who cut you off while yapping on her cell phone. We love that one.

Thanks!

Re:Dear Slashdot readers (3, Funny)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362594)

We love that one.
Did you hear the one about the sociopath who got cutoff by a soccermom on a cell phone? Yeah, seems he followed her home, waited outside her house until night, broke in and... well, I'm sure you can image the rest of the story. Goes without saying that duct tape, a baseball bat, and a few pairs of women underwear were involved.

Gruesome mess. Just awful.

When the cops finally arrived, the poor git - dressed in women's panties and covered in blood - was screaming "Can you hear me now, bitch?! Honk-honk!"

Re:Dear Slashdot readers (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362712)

Please tell us yet another anecdote about that one asshole soccer mom driver who cut you off while yapping on her cell phone. We love that one.

Ha! Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (4, Interesting)

JustShootMe (122551) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362392)

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:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362458)

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.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (3, Insightful)

Fuzzums (250400) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362518)

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.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362660)

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.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

nbert (785663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363158)

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 initial pairing. No danger of forgetting your handset or running out of battery. And no searching for the phone/handset if you haven't put everything in the right place before starting the engine*.
Plus the benefit that you don't drain the cellphone's battery while talking and the reception is better in general.

*Ever headed on the highway slightly to late for work while your phone is ringing in your pocket and your headphones are under the seat and totally tangled? I'm sometimes wonder in what ideal world legislation passes laws allowing headsets ;). And don't tell me it's easier with wireless headsets. Most of them require two hands to put them in the right place and you need to charge them at home, so it's more likely to forget them there.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (2, Insightful)

WK2 (1072560) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362758)

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.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362890)

"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 driving themselves.

"I'm all for improving public transportation, which would help with a lot of problems, including road safety."

Public transportation as we know it is a non-starter. There are a few places where it makes sense, but in the vast majority of places it does not. Than there is the problem that it is being approached completely the wrong way anyway.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362832)

When on the road there is only one thing that is important and that is safety.
Bullshit. If safety is the only important thing, then everyone should be leaving their cars at home and walking. It'll take you forever to get where you're going, but you'll be a lot safer!

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (2, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362850)

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?

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362872)

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?

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

pwizard2 (920421) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362904)

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....

Why stop at cellphones (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362896)

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 - hands free doesn't help much because the distraction principally comes from the conversation itself not holding the phone. Ultimately it comes down to personal responsibility and knowing your limits, laws won't protect others on the road they just allow greater penalties after-the-fact.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362954)

What about if I'm tired but still really need to get somewhere? It's safer then for me to talk to someone to keep me awake, no?

I don't talk when I'm in stop-and-go traffic or things like that, but there are times when it's nice to be able to talk to someone.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (2, Insightful)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363156)

What about if I'm tired but still really need to get somewhere? It's safer then for me to talk to someone to keep me awake, no?
If you're so tired that you're afraid of falling asleep while driving home, don't drive your fucking car.

- RG>

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (0)

DanWS6 (1248650) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362556)

Perhaps what this really is is more evidence that we should automate as much about driving as is possible.
No thanks. I enjoy driving my car and do not want to have a computer doing it for me. If I wanted to be chauffeured around I'd take a taxi or a bus or the light rail.

Re:I'm all for a certain amount of regulation... (1)

Rick17JJ (744063) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363144)

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 something distractingly messy such as a hamburger. On rare occasions, while cruising along country highways in light traffic, I have picked up the microphone on my 2-meter radio and briefly chatted with other ham radio operators. Occasionally, I have suddenly paused or ended the conversation by saying something like "just a minute, I got some heavy traffic." Even without saying that, the other ham usually seems to guess why there was a 30-second delay in getting an answer from the other driver. I should emphasize that I do do that type of thing very often, even under such circumstances.

bad drivers (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362434)

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

Re:bad drivers (2, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362940)

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 my area is increasing exponentially. I wouldn't feel safe on the way to work each day if I was driving a Hummer: these people are dangerous.

And I don't care if I'm offending any of you death-machine owners: I got hit by one of you lunatics a couple months ago, and had to listen to the little bastard call me every name in the book ("Fuck you you motherfucking asshole!") then roaring off before the police arrived. My insurance agent had never even heard of his insurance company: she said it was probably some fly-by-night outfit and that it was likely all he could get. I'm not surprised, given his behavior and poor driving. I could tell he wanted to take a poke at me, but I'm about twice his size and I guess he figured that would be a bad idea. I will admit that after I took his insurance info and was walking back to my car, I said, "You're a dick." Yeah, he pissed me off.

In any event, here's a piece of advice to anyone that doesn't realize that a car can become a deadly weapon in instant. If you don't want to be considered part of the nation's burgeoning supply of sociopaths, get rid of the damned cell phone, drive a smaller car, or better yet learn how to drive. At the very least, accept that the cell phone you have continuously jammed into your ear is just making matters worse for everyone including yourself. If you can't do that, then for God's sake pop a Xanax before you hit the road.

2 things I noted. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362438)

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?

Re:2 things I noted. (1)

JamesTRexx (675890) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362764)

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 (4, Interesting)

jroysdon (201893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362440)


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 ;-)

Re:Multitasking test (1)

Aranykai (1053846) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362468)

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 (1)

Paleolibertarian (930578) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362542)

Yeah! Then we could even get kids to report their parents for doing stupid things. What a great society that would be. With neighbors peeking at you through the mini-blinds and reporting you for putting your trash out to early.

Re:Multitasking test (1)

pablomme (1270790) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362836)

Isn't that in Orwell's 1984? Kids raised into state fanatism, reporting on their neighbours, and eventually on their parents.. nice..

After all, we're not that far from that type of society.

I didn't just say what I just said.

Re:Multitasking test (4, Interesting)

Sanat (702) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Multitasking test (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362748)

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.

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362816)

People like what? Smart and successful? Or young and invincible?

We're not jealous, are we?

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362830)

People like what? The only things you know about her are:

1) She did really well in school
2) She got in a car accident while using her cell phone in her car

If you're saying that that's enough information to say that this girl is too self-absorbed to care about others and is going to forget that she killed two people, I'm going to say it's more likely that you're a judgmental asshole who is incapable of emphathizing with people who aren't exactly like you.

I could be wrong, though. (but that won't stop me from posting inflammatory, pointless comments on Slashdot! Just like you!)

Re:Multitasking test (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363138)

I took more away from it than you did.

"Everything going her way" it says, that's a sign of someone who is self-absorbed (or focused, however you want to spin it) to ridiculous levels. Even if it comes naturally, it's still a lot of work that it takes a type-A personality to achieve.

Also, Valedictorian is not just about your grades, it's also a personality contest. That means she's likely an "in crowd" sort of person, which is also a sign of being self-absorbed.

Lots of people get 4.0 grade point averages, only one is valedictorian, and while I'm sure they exist, I've never met a valedictorian that wasn't a complete douche bag.

And no, it's not jealousy. I didn't even graduate my high school class (for various reasons), preferring to get a GED early and get on with life. I was a classic under-achiever that schools traditionally don't now how to deal with, so I chose to make my own way, and have been a lot better for it in my opinion. I shudder to think of what I would be like if I had follow an honors program and joined those cliquey douche bags.

Sure, all this is generalization and even a bit of prejudice, but I stand by my comment. If she wasn't so self-absorbed, she would have been aware of how her behavior was risky to others.

Just my opinion.

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362860)

You can tell how self-absorbed someone is... because they did good in school and completed Calculus in the 7th Grade?

Talk about asinine assumptions...

Re:Multitasking test (1)

Fieryphoenix (1161565) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362870)

People like that are typically too self-absorbed to really care about others, even if they pretend to.
Who now? Texters? Drivers? Valedictorians? Girls?

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23363016)

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.
If you are attacking the highly intelligent then you are way off the mark. An event such as this could drive them to achieve much more then they might have otherwise to pay their perceived debt and it could also send them to a lifetime of not accomplishing anything. Their lives could run a wide gamut afterwards from high success to levels of failure that make others shake their heads at the lost promise. From those extremes and anywhere in between they are subject to reportedly high rates of suicide. [timesonline.co.uk]

So, yeah, you could most certainly be wrong. IMO, you are wrong, but I won't try to set myself up as an expert here.

Re:Multitasking test (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363176)

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!

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23363198)

Um, what exactly is your character analysis based on?

BTW, most people are worthless. It just takes the right context to prove this to yourself. But in the same way as you generalized the GPs protagonist, I bet your just some loser with a dead end life and a grudge against the world for not recognizing your genius.

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362804)

Please tell me she's getting a ten year stretch, minimum.

Re:Multitasking test (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362864)

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.

Re:Multitasking test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362934)

Look on the bright side; she might not give a damn, you overly-emotive piece of shit!

Just a driving COMPETENCE test (2, Insightful)

arete (170676) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362952)

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, because she couldn't have been driving very long - and because we don't use effective simulators to condense high risk driving situations, so you only get into them as a small fraction of your driving (unless you're very reckless)

The level of qualification that we apparently think is sufficient to let people drive is ridiculously low. They're not tested under even the tiniest of duress or stress, or in any sort of challenge that involves any real skill at driving or even having any reflexes at all. Even a 15 mph slalom would rule out SO many people, or force them to acquire greater skills.

We're getting in a giant death-machine here, people - we need to do a reasonably good job of knowing who is qualified.

I knew a case of an 80 year old man whose reflexes had clearly gone, but he wanted to keep driving. He rear ended someone with no extenuating factors whatsoever. Just up and drove into them, over a long lead distance.

To their credit the state made him take the driving test again... His family told everyone who would listen (his doctor, the DMV) that he shouldn't be driving. And he passed, and kept driving. (He passed the vision test, so apparently he could SEE what was going on, but he couldn't DO anything about it.) The family eventually prevailed on him to get rid of his car, but it was substantially later.

Also people who get _multiple_ DUI convictions... really? A serious DUI ought to be grounds for license suspension and ought to come with a stern warning - that if you drive on that suspended license you go to jail until you convince them you aren't going to wield any more implements of destruction.

I would be willing to wager that I could drive better in a manual transmission car after being awake for 30 hours while having a heated discussion on a cellphone, eating pasta, and/or changing my shoes than at least 10% of drivers, perhaps more. Note that I'm not saying I SHOULD do these things, or that I have a superhuman ability to multitask or drive, only that the state of things on the road is terrible.

The FUNDAMENTAL problem, of course, is that we treat driving more like a right than a privilege, which it needs to be since so many of our living spaces are designed to only work if you have a car. *sigh*

Some risks are manageable. (4, Insightful)

Paleolibertarian (930578) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362474)

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:Some risks are manageable. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362584)

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.

do you speak for everyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362670)

because I happen to be very risk adverse, and also smell very bad.

Re:Some risks are manageable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362744)

These risks are manageable but a life without risk is not worth living.
No doubt that is how that old story about the guy who bled to death while his girlfriend choked to death when the wreck would otherwise only have knocked them unconcious got started. Of course they might not have had the wreck if she didn't have her head in his lap distracting him, but then these days they would have blamed it on the passenger not wearing a seat belt.

Re:Some risks are manageable. (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362820)

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 that it was worth the risk.

No (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362944)

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.

Um, you're the idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23363116)

When you crash into a family and kill them because you were taking 'acceptable risks' what about the kids you're gonna kill? Do us a favor. Take your car our right now on a deserted backroad and crash it into a tree while going 120 kph. Maybe it will save some lives. Fucking twit.

I think it's dependent on the level of experience. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362508)

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.

Re:I think it's dependent on the level of experien (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362640)

So a hypothetical 22 year old who started driving at 18 is automatically a good "distracted" driver now because they have been texting / talking while driving for 4 years, so now they are good at it??

Re:I think it's dependent on the level of experien (3, Insightful)

scotch (102596) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362932)

By that logic ... I've been driving drunk for years, and am good at it, so clearly it is ok for me to drive drunk.

Sound quality has an effect, yes/no? (5, Interesting)

DeathAndTaxes (752424) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362520)

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.

I can testify (5, Interesting)

VeteranNoob (1160115) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:I can testify (0, Troll)

x00101010x (631764) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362686)

Too bad not everybody puts a natural priority on public safety. In this ego-centric civilization, parent is unfortunately the exception and not the rule.

Is it just me or are women especially bad about this?

Re:I can testify (1)

Plaid Phantom (818438) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362724)

I think a lot of the trick to multitasking is the mind having the ability to judge what needs focus at any given moment. To put it in /. terms, the brain is a single processor (though it develops a number of special circuits), and multitasking is just process scheduling. Those who are good at it are just better at giving attention appropriately.

Re:I can testify (1)

WDot (1286728) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363042)

If I have a passenger in the car, we talk all the time. However, the passenger must understand they are on back-up navigation duty. Almost every time I approach a crossroad or turn, I say "is this the one?" just to keep the directions fresh in both minds. If we both are at least partially devoted to the task of find our way there, then we are more likely to have get there swimmingly.

Not completely straight-forward (3, Informative)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362532)

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.

Re:Not completely straight-forward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362774)

I'm a truck driver. The cab is my office. And if that office isn't motoring down the road then I'm making no money. So I'm on the phone talking to the people who are my contact to my company, or to the customer who's driveway I'm trying to find.

Add to the fact that pulling over to the side of the road is usually not an option; either there simply is no room, or it's some place that cops, neighbors, or other drivers get irate about when they find a 75 foot vehicle taking up their road.

Then there's the problems of driving down a long, straight interstate for ten hours at a time. Music or audiobooks are my friend. Having something to keep the active part or my mind going sure beats having it switch off in the middle of the day. Bad things happen when boredom or "highway hypnosis" kicks in.

Re:Not completely straight-forward (3, Interesting)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 6 years ago | (#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).

Re:Not completely straight-forward (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362906)

My auto-pilot is a tad borked. It's been known to come to a stop sign and wait to it to turn green. Eventually, when this doesn't happen over a long period of time, some sort of exception is thrown and my conscious attention is brought to bear on the situation, at which point I realize my subconscious is stupid. But I'm somewhat mollified by the fact that at least sitting at a stop sign is fairly safe.

I do also have the experience of arriving at destinations that aren't where I meant to go, simply because my mind was elsewhere and the autopilot figures it knows the way.

Even just talking to a passenger? (2, Informative)

GospelHead821 (466923) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Even just talking to a passenger? (1)

Furry Ice (136126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362756)

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 while driving than I am, but it still freaks me out whenever she starts using her Blackberry.

Well that answers the Atlanta question.... (3, Funny)

3seas (184403) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362550)

...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.....

Re:Well that answers the Atlanta question.... (1)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363224)

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 traffic at a standstill.

Listening to audio books. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

what's next? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362564)

McDonalds is forced to pull Big Macs off the drive-through menu...

No smoking while driving? No talking while driving? No honking at cute co-eds? No tuning the radio? Legally require the "10 & 2" hand positions?

___

Judge: "Why were your children in the trunk of your car?"
Driver: "It was the only way to ensure I wouldn't be distracted while driving. You know how dangerous that can be."
Judge: "Charges dismissed. The defendant was clearly protecting his children, not endangering them, when he secured them in the trunk for the drive from Portland to Disney World."

___

Why not just BAN driving altogether? it certainly would be better for the environment, too.. at least once all the unused cars are properly recyled.

Driving is just dangerous in general (2, Insightful)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

I would like to know (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23362650)

what the hell this has to do with Microsoft?

Solution (2, Funny)

DigitalisAkujin (846133) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362668)

Fine, so lets ingrain driving before language!

Baby cars!

The future will make driving safer ... (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362674)

... 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.

Even worse .... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362694)

... posting on Slashdot while distracted by driving seems to produce some pretty weird material.

How does alertness factor in? (2, Insightful)

wickerprints (1094741) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

No Shit (1)

Aphoxema (1088507) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362746)

I don't need an MRI and a driving simulator to know that when someone gets messed with while they're driving or doing anything that requires focus they're going to do LESS GOOD at it.

And yet... (2, Interesting)

theeddie55 (982783) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362822)

Driving lessons and the test have to be done with someone talking to you all the time.

Can we outlaw Driving Under Influence of Children? (2, Insightful)

ZWithaPGGB (608529) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we outlaw Driving Under Influence of Childr (1)

AgentPaper (968688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363106)

+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 traffic, and T-boned into the right side of my Explorer. To boot, the kid had just gotten his license back after having it suspended for - you guessed it - reckless driving and teenage passenger violations. Suffice to say, it was gone for good as soon as the police arrived on-scene.

Normally I'd be the last one to call for government intervention in personal conduct, but I think they ought to require chauffeur's licenses for anyone who intends to transport more than one passenger on any regular basis. Especially when the passengers are juveniles, it's just too damned easy to get distracted, cause an accident and possibly injure or kill somebody.

Application? (1)

mathimus1863 (1120437) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362828)

And how often do people have accidents because they were talking to a passenger? Sure they see spikes in neural activity, and they would expect higher incident of accidents, but it's really not that significant in reality. Therefore, I think they should investigate why they think the brain is overwhelmed when it's really not (or performance anxiety inside of a simulator).

Highway hypnosis is even more dangerous (4, Informative)

ShinmaWa (449201) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362876)

It's OK for me to multitask - I'm a better than average [wikipedia.org] driver, as indeed are 90% of people.

The solution is obvious... (1)

BitterOak (537666) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362886)

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.

Duh. (1)

Heather D (1279828) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362894)

I know people who can't read and ride in a car. Not drive, ride. It should be pretty obvious that diverting attention from one task reduces the quality of thinking involved in both lines of thought. Back when I first started driving I noticed a greater number of mistakes when the music was on or someone was talking to me.

The radio is all commercials and crap so it was pretty easy to lose but it can be a challenge getting passengers to shut up sometimes. One of these days I am likely to taser somebody for saying "Hey look!" and pointing somewhere while we're in the middle of a busy intersection.

not so, otherwise you'd couldn't talk and walk (1)

2TecTom (311314) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362958)

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

Modern Phrenology (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362962)

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 have the same kind of outcry against stereos in cars. Heck, we don't even see an outcry that stereos should be hands free. When was the last time you saw a bumper sticker that said "Turn off the radio and drive". That's right. Never. Why? Because the radio was invented before the arbitrary date that neo-luddites have decided technology should stop.

I realize that this 'study' is not limited to cell phones, but if you read the other comments, you will see the luddites are out in force.

This just means one thing (1)

Derosian (943622) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362970)

We all start driving motorcycles, seriously you can't hear anything even if you have a headset, there is no way you can do anything besides drive!

Most audiobooks suck (1)

jps25 (1286898) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363000)

I can very well see why audiobooks would have such an effect, since most audiobooks I've come across are read in a boring, monotone voice and make me sleepy.
Usually I'm able listen to them for 20-30 minutes without blending them out for a few minutes or completely, but those 20-30 minutes take a lot of concentration.
Radio plays on the other hand tend to be spoken by several people, so they're rather nice to listen to while I work/code and help me stay awake on long days.

Study Verifies Driving Encased in an MRI Dangerous (1)

carlzum (832868) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363018)

My intuition tells me that concentrating less on driving is dangerous, but MRI images are hardly compelling evidence. Showing a correlation between books on tape and an increase in accidents would be far more valuable. How much does a book on tape increase the chance or accident? Is it negligible or the greatest threat to drivers' safety? This study proves it's one or the other, or somewhere in between.

Bus Plunge (0)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363036)

Don't brake for animals tonight
Got to keep the passengers safe
No help can be found in this part of the world
Don't brake for animals tonight
Don't let the night slow you down
Got to get the passengers home
The road is empty, your lights are bright
Don't let the night slow you down
B-b-bus plunge (One more cup of coffee and I'll be alright)
The driver says bus plunge (pop a bennie, another bennie)
The driver says bus plunge, bus plunge
Stay to the right of the line
Don't get the passengers scared
The curves in the road are not really there
Stay to the right of the line
B-b-bus plunge (One more cup of coffee and I'll be alright)
The driver says bus plunge (pop a bennie, another bennie)
The driver says bus plunge, bus plunge
Don't brake for animals tonight
(Never mind the creatures in the road ahead)
The driver says don't brake for animals tonight
(Run the stoplight, run the stoplight)
The driver says don't brake for animals tonight
(Don't think about the lady in the Chevy turning left)
The driver says don't brake for animals tonight
(Almost home, you're almost home)
The driver says bus plunge, bus plunge

by The Bobs.

RS

Also distracting: (1)

Ethan Allison (904983) | more than 6 years ago | (#23363092)

Driving while having an MRI.

Finally a little common sense ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23363136)

While I am not an advocate of cell phone use (especially texting) while driving, I have often gotten a large chuckle from those who advocate a ban on cell phone use.

Clearly these people do not have families. Cell phone use is in no way as distracting as having a spouse in the car. Having a spouse in the car is in no way as distracting as having kids in the car. Having kids in the car is in no way as distracting as having a spouse AND kids in the car.

I find it is very difficult driving with my family. It is far more distracting than any cell phone use that may occur in the car. Personally, I would not at all be opposed to a sheild between the driver and any passengers -- similar to that in a taxi. (I would be opposed to it becoming a Federal mandate -- we surely don't need anymore of THOSE.) It sure would make my driving life easier and quite a bit safer.

While admittedly, cell phone use is distracting, there are plenty of things that are far more distracting than cell phones.

29 subjects a test makes? Where's the control grou (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23363200)

What they tested 29 people 18 - 25? They should try testing people who have multi-tasked their entire working lives. . .
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