If your family is like ours, there was a hands-free cell phone kit under the Christmas tree -- because we've been hearing that's a safer option on the road. Well, maybe not.
More and more evidence is coming in now that whether a cell phone is hand-held or hands-free, the hazard is just the same for the guy behind the wheel.
"What we find is that you bring in about half the information. With our eye tracking measures, people were looking at the signs, but they just weren't processing them. Their mind was taken away from driving and transferred to the virtual reality of the cell phone conversation. You're more likely to miss traffic signals, more likely to get in rear-end collisions, slower to react to unpredictable events like a pedestrian crossing the street," says Dr. David Strayer, a psychologist.
Dr. Strayer and his colleagues at the University of Utah say their studies prove the brain actually pays less attention to signs, intersections, and hazards on the road -- when focused on cell phone conversations. And Dr. Strayer says the reason it doesn't matter if you're holding a cell phone to your ear or talking into it on the dash is looking and seeing are simply not the same thing. He says your eyes can look at things, but it takes active attention to process what you see and make sense of it.
An earlier study by the same researchers found there was not the same hazard among drivers who were talking to a passenger in the car or listening to the radio or even books on tape. That none of that was as dangerous as a cell phone behind the wheel.
The study was conducted at the University of Utah with 20 participants in controlled simulated driving conditions.