Hands-free phone users more cautious at the wheel
Drivers who hold their phone speed up and focus on the device.
A study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology found that hands-free phone users self-regulate their driving by slowing down while having a chat. Those using their phone illegally by handling it and looking down at the screen compound their distraction by speeding up.
Paper says previous studies had flaws
In the paper, researchers pointed to flaws in previous studies, which failed to account for varying levels of distraction and self-regulation.
Lead researcher for the project, Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, said that while hands-free users did take precautions, like driving centrally in the lane and slowing down, phone use still had a negative impact on these basic operations.
“But, overall, driving and using a phone still negatively affects both activities,” Oviedo-Trespalacios said in a statement.
Oviedo-Trespalacios offered a suggestion for safer phone use in a car.
“It’s more efficient – and of course safer – to just pull over in an appropriate place to use your phone quickly and then resume your journey,” Oviedo-Trespalacios said.
Testing phone users
Researchers put a group of 35 drivers, aged between 18 and 29, in an immersive driving simulator. Each driver then had to navigate three scenarios:
- Driving without using a phone
- Driving while using a hands-free device
- Driving while holding the phone
Unsurprisingly, drivers who held their phone became distracted and would look at the screen. In doing so, they unwittingly accelerated. Those chatting on the phone did display a level of self-regulation though as they would only use the phones on open highways and not on chicanes or city streets.
The researchers deduced that those who have less experience using a phone show higher levels of caution. However, novice drivers didn’t display that sensibility.
“Novice drivers are particularly at risk as they are more likely to drive while using a mobile phone,” said Oviedo-Trespalacios.
Worryingly, they also found that at least some of the drivers' overstretched attention while on the blower is spent scanning for police. The team said despite their work, 12% of motorists don’t believe hands-free phone use negatively affects their driving abilities.
QUT’s advanced driving simulator
The study made use of an advanced driving simulator, worth $1.5 million. QUT’s simulator features a full-size Holden Commodore with working controls and instruments, surround-sound engine noises and environmental sounds as well as a working digital rear view mirror. Sitting below the Commodore is a platform of pistons that replicate terrain in combination with a bank of screens and projectors.