Empirical studies have unequivocally shown that phone conversations and texting impair driving performance. Although until now, it has been difficult to quantify the risk this impairment, results from many studies show a clear trend for significantly poorer driving performance for drivers engaging in phone conversation while on the wheel. And while these studies contend that talking on the phone is not the most dangerous distraction to driving, they have shown that it’s the most common cause of accidents in the contemporary society. This paper seeks to critically review this hotly debated issue by first presenting arguments against this practice, countering the argument in favor of the practice and finally concluding with some solutions and recommendations that can be adopted to stem out the practice on our roads.
Reduction Peripheral Driving Vision
Many drivers do not realize the fact that they use peripheral vision in driving, even subconsciously. This is why they can easily notice something that is out of the ordinary on the road or next to the road. But if the driver is on the phone, all that attention is reduced due to drawing of the driver’s attention to the phone conversation leading to a situation where the driver may not effectively handle an accident that is avoidable. Driving especially at night requires maximum attention and a conversation on the cell phone divides the needed attention especially when the phone is held to the ear by the arm, the peripheral vision is almost completely obstructed and off-road incidents may lead to a crash if the driver fails to react or over-reacts (Schmidt & Lee, 2011).
Driving while talking on the cell phone has similar results to drunk-driving including decreasing the ability of the driver to focus, prevalence of making more mistakes than is averagely possible, oversights, increase in reaction time and impaired judgment. With such a reduced capacity behind the wheel, slight emergencies almost always lead to accidents. The fact that the driver’s physical visual is taken off the road to the phone during the time of dialing means that at least momentarily, the eyes are glued to the phone and not on the road.
Loss of Driver’s Physical Control and Loss of the Ability to Multi-Task
The physical act of holding a cell phone with one hand significantly reduces the control the driver has on the wheel. The optimum driving is only attainable when the driver has both his/her hands on the wheel. In case of an emergency, both hands on the wheel tend to be adequate in handling the emergency. For a driver driving a manual car, talking on the phone while shifting the gear lever leaves the wheel completely unattended at a particular moment during the driving session. In case of an emergency, the driver would completely be out of control to manage the situation. With the innovation and use of hands-free gadgets such as the blue tooth, although the physical ability of the driver is not greatly impaired, the mind attention of the driver is highly impaired sometimes to the detriment of the driver and the passengers.
The latest technologies such as the “Bluetooth” that allow exchange tunes, graphic images, and other objects with other phone users, the driver’s brain becomes ineffective and complacency creeps in since coordination and the ability to multitask are highly compromised. The situation becomes complex especially when speeding on a busy road where everybody is also speeding. During the rush hour, the concentration is required due to the large number of road users including pedestrians, traffic lights, turn signals and other drivers who may be driving careless oblivion of the possible risks. For example, cases have been reported where a driver on the phone fails to proceed when the lights are green at the end of the line, arguing heatedly on the phone only to speed out when the lights turn red leading to accidents at roundabouts (Brooks & Church, 2008). Such a case is especially possible when the brain is overwhelmed with decisions that have to be made and although in most other activities bad choices lead to lesser consequences, on a road with many other road users the consequence of a bad judgment may be fatal.
Physical Passengers VS the Cell Phone Conversation
Talking to the passengers while driving may be one of the oldest and probably the greatest distraction that drivers face while driving passenger automobiles. The practice is so bad that some states in the US have resulted in issuing of graduated drivers licenses whereby new drivers have to gather experience before they can be allowed to drive passenger laden vehicles. Talking on the phone is arguably even worse because the person talking on the phone is unaware of the situation of the driver. Physical passengers have the ability to see complex situations and emergencies and tone down or even keep quiet. The person on the cell phone on the other hand is not aware of brakes being applied instantly by the vehicle in front, nor can they see the brake lights and the honking of the oncoming traffic and therefore they may continue shouting on the phone. That situation has the psychological ability to overwhelm the brain leading to fatalities that could otherwise be prevented.
In addition, careful social science studies have established that a driver talking on the phone is at 4 times at a greater risk of crashing than an average driver who is not involved in a cell phone conversation (Brooks & Church, 2008). Of all motor vehicle crashes, use of cell phone while driving contributes to 6 percent of all accidents. Also, the cost to state boils down to about US$43 billion in a year. In the US, cell phone subscription from 1985-2008 increased by 1,262.4%. Such a high level of subscription has led to a rise in the proportion of the number of crashes on the roads. According to a research by Dr. Donald out on 699 drivers who had been involved in car accidents and analysis on 26, 798 cellular phone calls, the risks of having an accident while talking on the phone quadrupled (Brooks & Church, 2008).
Texting while driving is even more dangerous than a mere phone conversation. A certain social science study revealed that the risk of a collision while texting went as high as 20 times (Brooks & Church, 2008). On average, texting takes the eyes of the driver off the road for approximately 4.6 seconds which when travelling for 55mph is long enough to drive along the whole length of a football pitch (Brooks & Church, 2008) and that on a busy road, is too long to be driving blindly and endangers the life of both the driver and the passengers.
The proponents against the ban on driving while engaging on cell phone conversations argue that the hands-free gadgets led by Bluetooth provide safe driving for the drivers by disengaging on their physical control and especially the hands. Others argue that with the popularity of automatic cars, the physical work in driving has been reduced to a minimum allowing the drivers to handle cell phones while driving.
However, studies have pointed out that the mental distraction and impairment in making decisions that are critical in driving is the base-line for the advocacy to discourage talking on the cell while driving. The physical ability of the body organs is just but a small portion of the overall big picture. Driving dictates the allocation of undivided attention especially in the modern era where traffic has increased considerably on the roads and speeding due to innovation in technology and better designs of automobiles (Schmidt & Lee, 2011). Therefore, the mental concentration is core in driving and conversations task the brain whether in a hand-held cell phone or a hands-free phone.
Talking on the phone while driving has contributed significantly to road crashes and the rate has been increasing relatively to increase in mobile phone subscription, increase in traffic and increase in the number of young drivers on the roads. This is because the young drivers think that it is a popular public stunt to converse on the phone while driving. Even with the introduction of innovations that free the hands during driving, the innovations have not improved the functionality of the brain in multitasking. Therefore, just like many states have outlawed texting while driving, the authorities should also ban talking on the phone while driving on the roads so as to minimize road crashes that have steadily been on the increase.