white paper sums up dangers of distracted driving

Study: This is Your (Distracted) Brain While Using a Hands-Free Cell

The National Safety Council has released a white paper describing the risks of using a cell phone while driving. The white paper, "Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-free Cell Phones is Risky Behavior," addresses the lack of understanding about the dangers of cell phones and hands-free devices.

The 22-page white paper includes three pages of references to more than 30 scientific studies and reports, describing how using a cell phone -- hands-free or handheld -- requires the brain to multitask, which is a process it cannot do safely while driving. As the paper illustrates, cell phone use while driving not only impairs driving performance, but it also weakens the brain's ability to capture driving cues.

The paper describes how drivers who use cell phones have a tendency to "look at" but not "see" up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment. A form of inattention blindness occurs, which results in drivers having difficulty monitoring their surroundings, seeking and identifying potential hazards, and responding to unexpected situations.

Numerous public opinion surveys show most drivers believe using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. However, many admit they regularly talk or text while driving. At any time, 11 percent of all drivers are using cell phones, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NSC estimates more than one out of every four motor vehicle crashes involves cell phone use at the time of the crash.

"Cell phone use while driving has become a serious public health threat," said Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEO. "This white paper provides the necessary background and context for lawmakers and employers considering distracted driving legislation and policies. Several states and municipalities have passed legislation allowing hands-free devices while driving. These laws give the false impression that hands-free phones are a safe alternative, when the evidence is clear they are not. Understanding the distraction of the brain will help people make the right decision and put down their cell phones while driving."

The white paper is available for free download on the NSC Web site. To learn more about cell phone use while driving, visit distracteddriving.nsc.org.

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