back to article Mobile phone users should drive faster says prof

People who use mobile phones while driving are spoiling it for the rest of us - by driving more carefully and slowing down traffic, according to US researchers. A study from the University of Utah reports that drivers speaking on a hands-free mobile drive, on average, two mph slower than those not engaged in conversation - …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Habitual drug-using hands-free terrorists

    Personally I tend to go *faster* when I'm arguing with my girlfriend than if I'm not arguing with her.

  2. James Smith
    Paris Hilton

    So you can hear

    If I'm using a bluetooth headset while driving I will usually slow down, if on a motorway, to properly hear the other person.

    There's an awful lot of noise while driving on the motorway and you'll struggle to hear otherwise.

  3. Paul


    Or perhaps making it faster for the rest of us by not changing lanes all the time?

  4. Colin Millar

    Driving like drunks

    TRL 547 reported on mobiel phone impairment. The actual report costs £40 but this is from a literature review done by the Scottish Government

    Burns et al is TRL547

    "Burns et al (2002) reported on a simulator study into the effects of mobile phone use on driver performance. The study compared the effects of having phone conversations to the effects of alcohol consumption and it was found that certain aspects of driving are impaired more by using a phone (whether hands-free or not) than by having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit (80mg/100ml). It therefore concluded that driving behaviour while talking on a phone is not only worse than normal driving, but can be described as dangerous."

  5. dr2chase

    Cell phones are winning the GWOT!

    At first, it looks pretty bad for the cell phone users:

    20 hrs/yr/commuter x 6 x 10^6 chatty commuters x 10 yrs = 1.2 x 10^9 hours lost.

    3000 deaths/attack x 10^4 hrs/year x 40 yrs/death = 1.2 x 10^9 hours lost.

    Not worse that terrorists, but no better, and that assumes that only 2% of the US population commutes and talks on the phone.

    But they're multitasking! If they weren't talking on their phone while driving, they'd be talking when they reached their destination, and that would use just as much of their time, if not more. If they're only losing 5% of their speed, they're multitasking pretty well, so those apparent terror-scale time losses, are actually time saved. By chatting on our cell phones while driving, in ten years we will gain back 95% of the hours of life lost to 9/11. People who chat while driving, are actually winning the GWOT, right here at home. If we could double the (assumed) drive/chat rate, we could endure a 9/11-sized attack every 5 years with no net loss of time. Take that, Al Qaeda! While you hang out in caves and sandy places, we're kicking your butt with cell phones and cars and yellow magnetic ribbons. USA! USA! USA!

  6. Cameron Colley

    Mobile phone users are worse than that!

    I've heard said that a paedophile used a camera phone to take a picture of a child being abused, and send it to another paedophile. Since 2 paedophiles may have used mobile phones: mobile phone user==paedophile. String them up, the lot of them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and he gets paid for this?

    so someone is paying this guy to research and annouce that they are unable to concentrate as well and so drive slower because of that?

    i'm in the wrong profession

  8. Steve

    Slow *and* dangerous

    They drive more slowly because their concentration is divided, so they don't *notice* that they could use the faster lanes.

    Of course, nor do they notice the white line between the lanes, nor the person trying to overtake them as they wander between lanes, nor the red light in front of them, nor the fact that the car in front has just stopped. Needless to say they don't notice that they're doing *any* of that either, so they all think they're perfectly safe and not causing any problems to anyone else. Until they hit something.

    At least they can't send text messages hands-free (yet).

  9. Mat Moore

    Not such a bad thing

    So what they're saying is that the more they research; the less dangerous they are finding it!

    Seriously - start with the first results - I can't think of too many "blind" drivers.

    The next says you drive like a 70 year old - well at least they can see - although it's a small step up from blind I suppose (have you *seen* the way some old people drive?!).

    Then they say you drive like you're drunk; which surely is better than a 70 year old (see above) and now it just makes you late for work!!!

    I reckon the next test result will say "it gives you a light headache" or something!

  10. Bill Fresher

    Pull over

    If the mobile phone users pull over to talk they'll be going 100% slower than other drivers... that doesn't mean they'll be causing delays though.

  11. Andy Worth

    Turn em off....

    It's the only answer really. The problem is that in this day and age, you are expected to be available 24/7 and people compound the problem by trying to live up to it. Personally I don't answer my mobile if I'm driving, eating, shagging, playing on my console, taking a dump or many other occasions, but I know people who will drop everything when a call comes in.

    I didn't have a mobile when I was a teenager, perhaps that's why as I didn't "grow up" with that thought of having to be constantly available. Now it's pretty much socially programmed into everyone, so much so that there are people who panic completely should they forget to pick their mobile phone from home.

    So until social programming changes so that people understand that a mobile number is not a guarantee of being able to reach someone, I can't see people stopping chatting on the phone while driving, however dangerous it seems to be. Although I must say I think the research on the subject has a heavy bias, as I don't see how it can be much more distracting than talking to a passenger, assuming you use a hands-free kit.

  12. Steve Evans

    Hmmm... Interesting...

    Given that Government statistics supporting the use of speed cameras show that speeds is the major issue in 125% of all road accidents, shouldn't they be actively encouraging talking on phones whilst driving?

    Beanie, gloves and brown jacket in the corner.

  13. adnim

    Drive faster?

    Causing more accidents in the same time period is a more efficient waste of human life.

    As for hands free kit, I have had to take evasive action on more than one occasion as a muttering driver with a glazed over look in his/her eye has failed to stay in lane, braked harshly to make the turn that was almost overshot, pulled out in front of me at a junction or just cut me up.

    Some drivers do have the ability to talk and concentrate on the conversation whilst driving safely, about 1 in 50 I would guess.

    As for driving mobile phone users being more dangerous than terrorists, We would need to compare road deaths attributed to mobile phone use against deaths caused by terrorist action.

    I personally fear driving mobile phone users more than I fear terrorists.

    Switch the phone off whilst driving. Nothing that you have to say or hear is more important than a life.

  14. Martin Gregorie


    When you learn to fly its drummed into you that the priorities are aviate,navigate,communicate. In other words:

    1) fly the plane, which includes keeping a good lookout

    2) know where you are, but thats secondary to flying the plane

    3) using the radio to talk to ATC or other traffic comes bottom of the list, and remember that virtually all aircraft RT systems are hands free.

    The problem with virtually all current drivers is that they've never been taught to prioritise, so until this has been taught to all drivers on the road its safest to ban the use of mobiles, hands-free or not.

    For that matter, I think that that most people's default priority - the phone takes precedence of everything else - is bloody bad manners. If you're talking to another person, ignore the phone unless you're manning an emergency desk or similar. The caller will ring again if its important.

    @Andy Worth - IMO a passenger is less distracting than a caller simply because they can see a bad situation develop and will generally shut up while a caller will just go blathering on.

  15. Kent Martin

    The view from 2 wheels

    Whilst I've no idea about the hands free kits, when I am on the motorcycle, particularly whilst filtering, if I see someone on a mobile (without a handsfree device) I can almost guarantee that they haven't seen me, even if I am right next to them. 'Normal' drivers don't always notice me until I am level with them, but they almost always notice then.

  16. Andrew


    "Nothing that you have to say or hear is more important than a life."

    Unless you're a leading surgeon giving life-saving remote instructions as you race to the operating theatre on the other side of the country...

  17. Paul Smith

    @Andy Worth

    "as I don't see how it can be much more distracting than talking to a passenger"


    The phone doesn't include most of the signals that you get when talking (or listening) to a person in your prescence which means that you have to concentrate very much harder to maintain the same degree of comprehension. Think of the effort involved in trying to talk to granny when she has had one glass of sherry to many.

    Add the habit that most people have when they use a phone of partially "switching off" their eyes and that leaves you driving by "autopilot".

    Next time you are driving, ask yourself which car is closer, the one ahead or the one behind? What colour are they? Now try that while you are on the phone and your answer will be "What car?".

  18. Anton Ivanov

    Very good observation

    I had a near miss half a year ago. The idiot in front of me slowed down to 35mph while talking on the phone on the dual carriageway portion of the A505. I have seen that on many other occasions as well. There is a logical explanation to this - less noise so easier to talk.

  19. Graham Bartlett

    @Mat Moore

    Actually there *was* a Stevie Wonder video back in the 80s where he was at the wheel of a car. One would hope this was on his own property rather than out on the open highway. Although you never know with rock stars.


    PS. However, in Michigan, I can report that no matter how blind, drunk, careless, incompetent, lost or plain unused to driving on the right you may happen to be, you'll almost certainly be driving better than the locals. Michigan roads (interstates included) also tend to be in slightly worse condition than your average farm track. Perhaps this is related to the close relationship of Detroit with car companies, making the destruction of your existing vehicle a patriotic act...?

    PPS. "STOP" sign chosen as the only road-sign-related icon.

  20. Perpetual Cyclist

    Scariest day of my life

    was about 10 years ago, when I was driven by a sales rep at 100mph on a dual carriageway (with twisty bits) whilst steering with his knees and fiddling with his mobile using both hands. (In the days before texting). He was not the most lunatic driver in the company. She used to hit 120mph.

  21. Rick Brasche


    I hear drunk drivers also often drive slower and change lanes less too, in order to not attract attention of traffic enforcement. So do some stoned drivers, because they think they're driving waay too fast, man. Or they're too "mellow" to be "aggressive"

    Does this mean we should advocate drunken/chemically impaired driving too? I sure as hell hope not. I'm sick of "social sciences" and their continued failed experiments that they never get around to stopping. *cough* *cough* California I'm looking at you..

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The whole sodding country is slow enough!

    The average traffic speed on A roads is now below 40mph...SPEED UP!!

    The entire country is slowing down & if something isnt done soon, we're all just going to grind to a halt...even getting served in shops is slow as hell!!

    There is endless research to prove that speed doesnt cause's crap driving that does that. When are people going to take their moralistic heads out of the arses for long enough to find the accellerator again?


  23. Rick Brasche
    Thumb Up

    @ Kent

    heh, when I ride, I assume that *nobody* can see me. California drivers, many without licenses anyways, are a very self absorbed, selfish lot. All these "green" hypocrites driving around in their own monster SUV's. Or one step above that, assume everyone not only *can* see you but also are actively trying to cut you off or something. Some guy jealous that his girlfriend left him for a biker, that @sshat lawyer/politician/corporate manager who's mad that you can use the carpool lane or lane split while His Importantness driving that $100k sports car is stuck in traffic. Or that soccer mom who got jilted by a biker when she was in high school simply can't allow herself and her minivan to merge into the lane behind you where there's a mile of empty space, so she attempts to floor it because she just has to be in front of the motorcyclist to prop up her ego.

    Personally, I think they're all upset here because I'm doing a hell of a lot more for Big Enviro than they are don't need to sacrifice to do it.:)

    Now here's a new cellphone curse I see almost daily..people *texting* while attempting to drive!

  24. Kaz


    ok, so this or that can be MORE dangerous than something else, SO!

    setting all speed limits to 10mph would make the country MUCH safer, or better still, BAN cars! but we all know that's proposterous. as humans we can tolerate a certain level of risk, why do officials try and curb this?

    as for being distracted, what about a mother with a baby in the car who's crying or doing something, don't you think that would be worse than using a phone?

    so in conclusion, either kids or cars have to go... because they aren't safe!!

  25. J


    Mythbusters had an episode where the girl (forgot her name, the cute redhead) does a test drive (closed course), then the same while on the phone and later the same having just below the legal alcohol limit in her blood. For what it's worth, the worst driving was while talking on the phone. She massacred those poor cones...

  26. adnim

    @ Andrew

    Of course, Surgeons are perfect drivers even whilst performing remote surgery over a mobile and racing to a hospital.

    In the scenario you describe I can easily imagine the surgeon crashing, taking out a family of four, himself and the poor sod he was fixing up on the operating table too.

    Your logic made me laugh, thanks :)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Andy Worth

    > Personally I don't answer my mobile if I'm driving, eating, shagging, playing on my console, taking a dump or many other occasions, but I know people who will drop everything when a call comes in.

    You meant to say that, right?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I wonder when they will do these tests with out quizzing the person in the simulator when ever you see bits of them doing the simulator tests its like a GCSE exam or something, i would like to bet if they did the same with a passenger sat in the car they would get the same out come

    I think that driving with a passenger in the car is almost as bad if not worse than a person been on hands free

    at least when your on hands free you are looking at the road in front, most of the time when i see a driver and passenger in a car talking then keep looking at each other

    even more so when they are first at the traffic lights and they are too busy talking to notice they can go

  29. Robert Grant


    Anyone who's seen a driver weaving down a road, then taking a late, wide, one-handed turn will not be surprised to learn that the driver was on the phone. If this is news then report it straight; if this is comment on the researcher then how is it news?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Did I miss something?

    Namely, the bit from your headline where he suggests driving faster, because I can't find any such suggestion in the article. He's simply pointing out that people using mobiles drive a tiny bit more slowly.

    It's an extremely irresponsible headline, given that all available evidence shows that speaking on a mobile (hands-free or not) significantly increases the risk of being involved in an accident.

  31. Rob Haswell

    When needs must

    "Personally I don't answer my mobile if I'm driving, eating, shagging, playing on my console, taking a dump"

    I have taken a call from a client in all but one of those situations. Any guesses?

  32. Nexox Enigma

    @Andy Worth

    """Personally I don't answer my mobile if I'm driving, eating, shagging, playing on my console, taking a dump or many other occasions..."""

    Gods I agree with that one. And I find that for the most part there is no problem with not answering. If anyone gets irritated I just tell them that I was in class, the shower, or a knife fight. Nobody expects you to talk in those situations. Sometimes they don't believe that I actually go to class or shower, but that's another story.

    The real problem is when you're doing one of the above activities and someone hears your phone rings and expects you to answer. Especially irritating while shagging.

    I still talk on my hands free set while I drive, but I keep the conversations short and I will frequently stop talking mid sentance if I need to pay attention to traffic. Even so I find that after I get off a call I can't remember the last mile of heavy traffic. The problem I believe lies with people that tend to not pay attention to driving even when not on the phone.

    How about when drivers talk to a passenger and can't help but look away from the road all the time to take part in the conversation? I'm 2 feet away, I can hear your voice if you look forwards and talk - Please don't rear-end that Daihatsu.

  33. Daniel B.

    Mobile madness

    I used to have this rule: NEVER answer mobile when driving. Now that the Mexico City Traffic Rulebook has been updated, I'll have to stick to that again because you can't do it anymore. You can get fined *even if you use hands-free*. I would almost agree to that ruling, as I had a near-miss driving at 80 km/h in the highway while talking to my mom, hanging up and realizing I was moving slightly into the right lane ... and right into a bus. Two swerves later, I was back on course and cursing on answering my damn mobile... had I been traveling at 130 km/h as I was before answering I might have crashed instead.

    That said, I got my first cellphone at age 15, and since about 6 years or so, the "always on" culture has permeated everyone. I remember we used to switch off mobes during the night or while at home, 'coz it was stupid keeping them on when we had our landline. Now I *have* to keep it on, because even co-workers expect you to answer 24/7, and some employers even give you mobes where you are contractually *obligated* to answer, no matter what you're doing.

    Fortunately, I usually prioritize while driving; heavy traffic usually makes me go silent and only say "wait a minute" or something like that.

  34. Steve


    "I hear drunk drivers also often drive slower and change lanes less too, in order to not attract attention of traffic enforcement."

    Many years ago one of my Mum's friends was pulled over by a policeman who clearly thought she'd been drinking (nose stuck well into the car as he asked to see her licence). After agreeing that she was completely sober he explained that he'd stopped her because she was driving so precisely at the speed limit and signalling every turn that he was sure she was trying to hide :)

    They both had a good laugh when she explained that it was her first time driving in the UK after years of living in Germany, and she was concentrating very hard on driving correctly on the left, and with speed limits in MPH again...

  35. Charles Manning


    "Personally I don't answer my mobile if I'm driving, eating, shagging, playing on my console, taking a dump"

    If you can do all those things at the same time then surely adding a call is no big deal. If you're really concentrating then the shaggee can answer the call for you in a professional manner.

  36. Sandra Greer

    Use a Beeper

    I give out my pager number and let them beep. When I am good and ready, pulled off the road, I can respond with the mobile, which is always off. You just have to show them who's boss!

  37. Dave Watts

    Global Warming angle?

    Given this seems to be a complex non-linear system and we are trying to assess the impact of one variable (mobile phone usage whilst driving) on the system as a whole (journey duration, terrism, economy efficency etc) we can extend the analysis to solve global warming.

    The most important outcome will be increasing the numbers of road deaths. It is imperative that the population of the world be controlled, and people speaking on their mobiles whilst driving are increasing the chance that they will contribute to the GWAW (global war on weather), and should be encouraged so to do...

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Real life observations

    I've had to dodge driving phone junkies so often I can't even begin to count. And no, where I live they don't necessarily slow down; sometimes they tailgate you at approx. 100 mph, signaling, flashing their lights and lighting a cigarette at the same time. Now, _that's_ multitasking if you ask me.

    As for myself, I prefer to drive safely. And I prefer not to be terrorized by everybody and his aunt who can't be buggered to actually talk to me if they want to tell me something, so I use a nice, old cellphone that cannot do text. And when I'm in a restaurant, theatre, loo, car, etc. I turn the bloody thing off. Simple enough to do. Given the way many people I observe drive when they're talking on the phone, I guess I'm saving a bunch of lives just by that every day.

    Plus, there is the general concept of courtesy. When I'm talking with somebody face to face and the phone rings, I can excuse myself to take the call. Courtesy would demand I keep that call short. That's OK in my book. When I'm driving in dense traffic, trying to dodge three idiots who are already on their phones and are changing lanes and velocities randomly, I regard it as a discourtesy to everybody if I take a call and begin to add to the chaos.

    Hat, coat, taxi...

  39. Andy Worth

    Re: @Andy Worth

    The main point I was trying to get across is that I take issue with people who just naturally expect me to answer my mobile at any time of day or night. I still have a life after all......

    @ Charles Manning - I'd never drive and take a dump at the same time, come to think of it, I'd never shag and take a dump at the same may be some peoples bag but it doesn't turn me on....

    @ Rob Haswell - I'd hazard a guess at driving.....after all we're all law abiding citizens here aren't we and it's the only one (as far as I know?) that there is a law to prevent ;)

    @ Paul Smith - I still don't see it as being much more distracting as talking to a passenger. After all, if you're looking at their other "signals" then you're not concentrating on the road, so all you should be paying attention to is their voice, much like on a phone call. I guess we can agree to disagree on this one until some valid unbiased research proves one way or the other. My reasoning though is that in 16 years of driving I've had two (minor) accidents, both happened when I was distracted from the road by my passenger. I'm not trying to defend mobile phone usage while driving (after all you can choose not to answer your mobile), I'm just saying that it's just one of many evils that distract drivers from the task at hand.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    re: Speed up England!

    Funnily enough, I was following a car at 55mph on an A road just last night when without warning the guy hits the brakes hard, despite there clearly being nothing ahead of him.

    Nothing coming the other way so I passed rather than do likewise, and as I sailed past I was thinking "'phone", but there didn't appear to be one. He was actually slowing for the "safety" camera...

    (Steve Jobs because I see drivers all the time now selecting tracks on their iPods).

  41. Big_Boomer

    An alternative approach?

    I have the dubious pleasure of riding a motorcycle into Docklands every day. I could take the car or train but they take over 1½hrs where the bike takes 45 mins.

    On several occasions, EVERY DAY, I get cut up by people chatting on their phones. On 2 occasions I have come extremely close to being squashed into the crash barrier or another car by these selfish, incompetent morons. They only seem to wake up and actually drive the car when you kick their car, prefereably hard enough to dent the thing.

    So, I advocate shooting all such people as it would be done in self defence. The sooner using the phone while driving becomes socially unacceptable, like drink driving, the better. Laws are a waste of time as there is no enforcement and the possible penalties are a joke.

    So, if you talk on the phone while driving don't be surprised if one day you look in the mirror and see a red dot dancing on your forehead. As Hudson 10 said in Red Dwarf episode The Last Day, "You are ALL VIABLE TARGETS!" <EvilGrin>

  42. Louis Cowan

    pilot joke :)

    for Martin Gregorie

    When at a party, how do you know who works as a pilot.

    He'll be the one telling you he's a pilot :)

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Think again....?

    Perhaps we could arrange for all the morons above who think it is acceptable to use any form of mobile telecom equipment, be it hands free or hands occupied, to be called at home or at work randomly over the next year or so and be told that a partner or child of theirs has been killed by a fat sloaf arranging his next meeting or a dumb broad arranging a trip to the sales.

    I wonder how pro phone-driving they would be for the hour after the call until they where told that their loved on was in fact safe, but what do you think about using a phone in the car now asswipe!

    I think there would be a 100% change of mind.

    As for the "speed up England" comment, perhaps that person's mind will be changed with great speed, involving a concrete wall and no one else.

  44. Jeremy Wickins

    @ Paul Warne

    "Perhaps we could arrange for all the morons above who think it is acceptable to use any form of mobile telecom equipment, be it hands free or hands occupied, to be called at home or at work randomly over the next year or so" -

    This would include police officers, ambulance staff etc on radios, presumably? Think before you write. I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment about mobile phone use in the car, but there is usually an exception to every rule.

    "As for the "speed up England" comment, perhaps that person's mind will be changed with great speed, involving a concrete wall and no one else."

    Oh, dear, that again. I've just about got this argument down to a fine art now, so here goes:

    1. "Speed" does not kill, despite what half-arsed government campaigns tell you. If speed killed, those who said passengers on Stephenson's Rocket would instantly be killed would have been vindicated. The guys and gals who have ridden on the Space Shuttle would be no more. So, let me say it again - Speed DOES NOT KILL!

    2. Let's be a little more precise, and allow that what the government (and you) really mean is that "speeding" kills, i.e. that exceeding an arbitrarily set limit will kill someone. This is obviously falsifiable, as many people (probably the large majority) exceed these speed limits every day, and hardly any actually cause the death of anyone. Millions of miles travelled at speeds in excess of the arbitrary limit, and very few deaths. Some people (the emergency services, for instance), are expected to travel faster than the arbitrary limit in order to do their job. Therefore, speeding does not necessarily kill.

    3. To be accurate, what we should be saying is that "inappropriate use of speed may lead to a situation in which death or injury may be caused to yourself or others".* However, this isn't as catchy, is it? It also allows that there are shades of grey - experienced drivers can do a lot more speed safely than a newly qualified one (in general), and modern cars are more than up to the job of dealing with higher speeds.

    As a driver, cyclist, and pedestrian, I would rather have people driving with their attention on the road, driving smoothly, and looking for hazards, yet perhaps going over the speed limit, than driving with their eyes on the speedo and having absolutely no idea what is happening around them, yet thinking they are driving safely because they are doing the limit.**

    * Most accurately is that it isn't speed in any form that kills or leads to injury, it is actually acceleration, but most folks don't have the physics to understand that.

    ** When I took my first driving test 25 years ago, I failed for "not making adequate progress", i.e. not going fast enough ...

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