Ergonomic Nightmare of the Week: Cell Phones While Driving

Do you ever talk on your cell phone while driving? Come on, admit it, I know you’re guilty. I can admit it, I am guilty myself. Sometimes it is just hard to resist, but I know my driving skills are not 100% while on the phone. I think some people can’t even admit that.

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Near Fatal Accident Involving a Driver on a Cell Phone

A study conducted by the University of Utah compared the effects of driving while talking on a cell phones as well as the effects of driving while intoxicated. They found (not a surprise to me) that drivers on cell phones were 5.36 times more likely to have an accident than undistracted drivers. The study also found:

Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk.

What this tells me is that driving requires intense concentration and any small distraction can mean the difference between crashing and not crashing. In a world where we now are used to doing a million things at once, it is very tempting to try to multi-task while doing the seemingly mindless task of driving.

But that is the ergonomic flaw in driving: it seems easy, because until that split second when an accident is about to happen, it is easy. It is only during those split seconds that your concentration, alertness and reaction times come into play.

There is no simple solution to this problem. Now that we have cell phones, we just want to talk on the phone wherever and whenever. The problem is, doing so is often dangerous, annoying, and rude. As cell phones continue to evolve into ever more encompassing “companions,” this problem will only get worse.

It is great to have a phone, mp3 player, computer, and tv all wrapped into one right in our pockets, but what about when we are supposed to be doing other things? Can we establish (and follow) safety and courtesy practices regarding their use? This will definitely be a challenge.