Cell Tower Switching Causes Driver Distraction?

from the occam's-cell-tower dept

There have been plenty of studies done showing how using a mobile phone while driving can impair your driving skills drastically. However, what is it about the phone conversation that makes it more distracting than just talking to someone inside the car? Some researchers say they have the answer, blaming the fact that, as you drive, you’re constantly switching cell towers — and that degrades the sound quality, forcing the driver to pay more attention to the phone conversation to hear what the person at the other end is saying. It’s an interesting theory, but did they compare it to other, simpler possibilities? What about the simple fact that the other person doesn’t know what the driver is doing? With someone else in the car with the driver, they subconsciously respond to what’s happening (pausing during merging or some other complex situation, for example). On the phone, however, the person will keep talking, without being able to adjust — which forces the driver to pay more attention to the call at times when he or she would be better off focusing more on the road.

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Comments on “Cell Tower Switching Causes Driver Distraction?”

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Jason says:

driving distraction

I’ve had a conversation along this line with a friend of mine. We decided that there is even a difference between how someone drives while holding a cell phone in their hand and driving, and driving with a headset instead. Maybe we’re just retarded, but we thought that having your hand against your head, rather than your steering wheel, makes some sort of difference…worth a thought at least.

Adam Szymczak (user link) says:

Paying Attention

Bang on. You are asking your brain to pay attention to two things: 1) the road around and ahead of you; and 2) the person on the cell phone. Niether is related to the other. Your brain has to divide it’s “processing power” between two intensive tasks, and given that your brain is more used to you driving than listening on the cellphone, it will likely focus it’s attention on the conversation than on the driving. Your brain moves into “auto pilot” mode for driving (like when you get home and can’t recall the trip from work, but still made it home in one piece). Then all hell breaks loose.

TrueJim says:

Cellphones while walking

Have you ever noticed somebody walking down the sidewalk when their cellphone goes off? They often stop and stand to respond to the phonecall, rather than continuing to walk.

If a person can’t walk and cell-talk at the same time, what makes them think they can drive and cell-talk at the same time?

I think the walking example gives credence to the theory that the combination of noisy-signal, low-volume, and slight-latency forces us to concentrate more when talking on a cellphone, whether walking or driving. The distractions of driving are just an additional complication.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cellphones while walking

That’s a silly example. When my phone rings I stop to take my phone out of my pocket. It’s hard to remove the phone from a pocket while walking in those same pants. The same applies to purses and such. That’s all there is to it, taking a phone out is hard when your whole body is moving, it’s much easier to stop for a second.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Cellphones while walking

Maybe we should have people take the “walk and chew gum” test before buying a cell phone. 😉 Agree here, good point.

People think a great deal with their hands. We motion with them while talking, probably because a good portion of the brain is devoted to coordinating hand motions to what we are thinking about. When holding a cell phone, the simple act of devoting one hand away from what we should be concentrating on is more distracting than the conversation we’re having.

I would bet a very good portion of money that a repeatable scientific study can find that those simply holding a cell phone to their head turned off, will have very similar driving results as those actually holding a conversation.

thatguy says:

Re: Re: Re: Cellphones while walking

I don’t think having only 1 hand on the wheel really affects peoples’ driving skills significantly.

Take, for example, people who normally drive a stick shift and then get into an automatic. The stick shift driver almost always only has 1 hand on the wheel and 1 hand on the gear shift. When they get into an automatic, habit will tell them to keep their hand at their side and not have both on the wheel.

I don’t believe the driving skill of someone with their hand at the top of the wheel compared to someone with them at 10 and 2 will really be all that different.

If was not speaking to anyone and simply holding a phone/object to my ear without using it or really being distracted by it, I highly doubt my driving skill would be any different than if I had my hand at my side or on the gear shift.

The distractions and active interactions with other people or objects is what degrades safety and skill.

Having a conversation, adjusting the radio, finding a new cd, or checking out the girl next to you as you pass are all actively distracting actions.

thatguy says:

Mike hits it on the nose again

I agree with Mike on the person who is in the car understanding what’s going on with the driving. If you are distracted (for whatever reason), you simply are not going to be able to drive as well as if you are not distracted and are giving 100% of your attention to the driving. People are not willing to accept this.

I constantly find myself apologizing to my girlfriend for ignoring/not hearing anything she says when I am in the middle of a driving act that requires a little more attention.

Driving requires a lot more attentiveness than people want to acknowledge or care about. And the people ignoring this fact is exactly why we all have to pay so much attention to others on the road in the first place.

Avoiding the idiot drivers…

Precision Blogger (user link) says:

A simpler explanation - the person you're talking

When you talk to a person in the car, you get lots of cues that you do not get on the phone. So you have to concentrate more on the phone.

A passenger is less likely to talk to you at a most dangerous moment also.

Finally, it IS distracting to talk to a person in the car, it’s just not AS distracting as a phone call.

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