Yakking While Driving Makes You Old…Instantly

There have been lots of studies that both condemn driving while using a cell phone, and other that say the practice is innocuous. We find all the studies have little merit when they are not placed in a comparative context with other distractions that have long existed in a car: chatting with passengers, managing kids, adjusting the radio, shaving… But now a University of Utah study measures the effects of using a cellphone while driving, compares it to other distractions, and quantifies the results as compared to other driving risk factors. The upshot? If a 20-something uses a cell phone while driving, they will instantly downgrade their driving reaction speed to that of a 70-year old. The study only used handsfree, and also concluded the effects of talking on a phone are more impairing than a blood-alcohol ratio of > .08, the legal limit in most jurisdictions. The linked AP article says, “drivers who talked on cell phones were 18 percent slower in braking, had a 12 percent greater following distance and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.” While the article concedes that the difference is only milliseconds, they suggest that can be the difference between life and death. It’s always dramatic to say “difference between life and death”, but accidents tend to happen when dozens of random factors line up poorly, and you’re the one in the wrong spot. Reaction delay is but one factor. I’ll stop yakking and driving when there’s more evidence that it actually costs lives, not just milliseconds. In the meantime, it would be wise for everyone to leave a little more distance between your car and the one in front of you when you are on the phone. An extra 5 yards could mitigate the added milliseconds of reaction delay, and actually improve your safety!

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