Thursday, January 13, 2011

Talking On Your Cell Phone Could Make You Drive Safer

Moves to bar drivers from using cell phones have been driven by the mantra that a phone-holding driver is as dangerous as a drunk one. However, a new study found cell phones may actually keep some drivers safer. Here's how.

The original claim grew from research by psychologists at the University of Utah in 2003, who used driving simulators to test volunteers' reactions while talking and while drunk. The result: "Driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as or maybe worse than driving drunk," the researchers reported.


The new study comes from economists Saurabh Bhargava at the University of Chicago and Vikram Pathania of the London School of Economics. They come at the question from a different direction, starting by using data from a cell phone company on up to 440,000 calls made from California drivers during an 11-day period in 2005. The researchers were able to separate drivers from other users by filtering for calls that switched among cell towers.

Explanations? The economists offer three possible takes. People who start talking while driving become more cautious. People who act like jackholes behind the wheel with a cellphone will act the same without one. And although cellphones clearly distract some drivers, they may also help other drivers stay alert.

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