Showing cell phone callers the road might improve driver safety

Showing cell phone callers the road might improve driver safety

(Reuters Health) – Providing a caller with views of the driver and the road ahead might reduce cell phone distraction for the driver, suggests a new study.

Researchers used a driving simulator and video phones to examine how a driver’s conversation partner – either on the phone or in the car – could affect their safety on the road.

At any given time, about 5 percent of drivers in the U.S. are using their cell phones, but the devices are cited as a cause of distraction in 18 percent of crashes, say the authors.

“For a number of years, we’ve been thinking about ‘how might we make a cell phone partner – that is someone who is speaking to a driver who might be using legally a hands free cell phone . . . more like a passenger’,” Arthur Kramer told Reuters Health in an email.

Kramer, who led the study, is director of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Because we know in the great majority of studies, the passengers, at least adult passengers who are drivers themselves, tend to be useful to drivers – it’s another pair of eyes, and experienced eyes, if it’s another driver,” he said.

Kramer said he and his colleagues thought it might be interesting to give the conversation partner at home or in a different location similar information to what a passenger sitting in the car would have, using a video-capable smartphone.

“And that’s what we did – we provided essentially a split screen video of the driver’s face and outside the windscreen,” Kramer said.

Kramer and his team designed the study to see if the video information could make the conversation partner more like a passenger.

They enrolled 48 college students who had two or more years of driving experience and set up four driving scenarios: the driver alone in the simulator, the driver speaking to a passenger who was also in the simulator, the driver speaking on a hands-free cell phone to someone in a different location and the driver speaking on a hands-free cell phone to someone who could see the
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