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Archive for December 4th, 2008

‘Hands Free’ Is Not Brain Free

I’m slow to post on this, but I’ve finally gotten around to reading a new cell-phone driving study from the indefatigable David Strayer and colleagues from the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Laboratory, via The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

With all the usual caveats (a small sample of student-aged drivers in a simulated driving environment), this study is of particular interest for addressing a question one often hears: How is talking on a phone while driving any different than talking to a passenger?

Among other things, test drivers were asked to exit a highway at a rest stop area under different conditions — while on the phone, while a passenger was present, etc. The researchers found that “drivers in the cell phone condition were four times more likely to fail task completion than drivers in the passenger condition.” (these were the socially sanctioned, but arguably no less distracting, ‘hands free’ phones, by the way).

Why?

They write: “On the strategic level of performance, cell phone drivers performed poorly at the navigation task. Two nonmutually exclusive explanations can be provided for this deficit: First, drivers conversing on a cell phone may experience problems with keeping the intention of exiting at the rest area in working memory, or second, drivers may not sufficiently process information from the driving environment (exit signs). Some support for the latter hypothesis comes from studies demonstrating inattention blindness in cell phone drivers (Strayer et al., 2003).”

What’s particularly interesting here is the way the conversation also changed with the cell-phone. Drivers made fewer references to traffic on the cell phone (because the person on the other end isn’t sharing the experience, or presumably interested in sharing it), and what’s more, actually started to speed up their conversation, even as it grew less multi-syllabic: “Also, quite surprisingly drivers conversing on the cell phone increased their production rate when talking on the cell phone, which is contrary to the predictions of the modulation hypothesis. More interesting, this happened even as those drivers in the passenger condition tended to reduce their production rate.”

The speech was getting simpler, in other words, even as it grew faster.

Drivers on cell phones, the author speculated, “may have attempted to dominate the conversation to avoid having to engage in speech comprehension, whereas with in-vehicle partners, it may be easier to relinquish control, given that the partner can be relied on to accommodate with his or her contributions.” (I’ve overheard quite a few cell-phone conversations where it seemed the caller was trying to dominate the conversation).

As study co-author Frank Drews told the Salt Lake City Tribune:

“It’s crazy. They talk faster. It’s quite counterproductive for driving safely,” Drews said. “There is an obviously malevolent influence.”

And, of course, it depends on who the passenger is: “For example a passenger who is too ‘supportive’ by constantly commenting and directing attention in an overcontrolling fashion has a potentially negative impact on performance.” (what I call the ‘Hyacinth Bucket syndrome’).

See the video here.

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Posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2008 at 4:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
5 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

Crosswalk Psychology

Cognitive Daily is running (until today) an interesting poll that shows a variety of situations with pedestrians in or near the crosswalks, and asks the user in which conditions they would be likely to stop. This picks up on a theme of a number of previous applied psychology experiments, which I described in the book, that reveal how we tend to comply with traffic laws rather situationally — rather than obeying them whole-cloth, in any condition (researchers have, for example, tested people who appeared to be blind, with a white cane, versus others, and found higher yielding rates; similar studies have been done with eye-contact, gender, among other variables).

Give it a try.

[p.s.: If that street is really marked for 45 mph, that's really high for a residential area with pedestrians].

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Posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2008 at 8:44 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
1 Comment. Click here to leave a comment.
Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

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Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

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