Driving while conversing: Cell phones that distract and passengers who react

The research systematically compared the driving performance and conversational patterns of drivers speaking with in-car passengers, hands-free cell phones, and remote passengers who could see the driver's current driving situation (via a window into a driving simulator). Driving performance suffered during cell phone and remote passenger conversations as compared with in-car passenger conversations and no-conversation controls in terms of their approach speeds, reaction times, and avoidance of road and traffic hazards. Of particular interest was the phenomenon of conversation suppression, the tendency for passengers to slow their rates of conversation as the driver approached a hazard. On some occasions these passengers also offered alerting comments, warning the driver of an approaching hazard. Neither conversation suppression nor alerting comments were present during cell phone conversations. Remote passengers displayed low levels of alerting comments and conversation suppression, but not enough to avoid negative effects on driving performance. The data suggested that conversation modulation was a key factor in maintaining driving performance and that seeing the road and traffic was not sufficient to produce it. A second experiment investigated whether a cell phone modified to emit warning tones could alleviate some of the adverse effects typically associated with cell phone conversations. The modified cell phone produced discourse patterns that were similar to passenger conversations and driving performance nearly as good as that of drivers who were not conversing. This latter finding supported the argument that conversation modulation is a key ingredient in avoiding adverse effects of conversations with drivers, rather than the physical presence of an in-car passenger.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Charlton, S. G. (2009). Driving while conversing: Cell phones that distract and passengers who react. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 41(1), 160-173.