Archive for Friday, February 18, 2011

KU researcher’s study reveals talking on a cell phone at the end of a long drive improves performance

February 18, 2011


For years, Kansas University researcher Paul Atchley’s studies have pointed to the dangers of texting and talking on a cell phone while driving.

So, when Atchley latest research revealed that talking on a cell phone can actually cause drivers to perform better at the end of long trips, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

“I had some trepidation in getting the message out that sometimes it’s OK to talk and drive,” Atchley said. “But, as a scientist you report the data, even if it is something you are not completely comfortable with.”

Atchley, an associate professor of psychology, adds some rather significant caveats to his findings. For starters, people should never talk on a cell phone if they can avoid it. And, the best thing to do when fatigued is to pull the car over and get some rest.

But when stopping isn’t an option, talking on a cell phone at the end of a drive can cause people to be more attentive to what is happening around them.

Atchley’s research - which is being published in next month’s issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society - has caused a bit of a controversy.

“It’s a message that people want to hear and a message that people don’t want to hear,” he said.

KU graduate student Mark Chan co-authored the study. The two measured the attention levels of 45 students while they simulated driving on what Atchley called the world’s most boring video game.

For 30 minutes, students drove a car on a straight stretch of highway similar to the mind-numbing drive on Interstate 70 through western Kansas. During that time, they had to stay within the lanes, steer clear of intruding cars, avoid radical maneuvers and remember road signs.

Students who talked on the phone the entire time didn’t perform as safely as others in the group. However, students who talked on the phone for the last five minutes of the drive improved their performance level to where they were at the beginning of the exercise.

The students used hands-free headsets to talk and played word games with the other person on the phone.

“The key thing is keeping the mind engaged,” Atchley said.

Tricks such as listening to the radio or a book on tape, aren’t as effective because the brain can quickly tune them out and they don’t require the driver to interact like a phone conversation would.

One side note, Atchley said the NPR radio show “This American Life” has proven to work well because the one-hour broadcast is broken up in several acts and has different narrators. Those changes keep drivers engaged and attentive.

With 62,000 crashes occurring every year because of driver fatigue or failure to sustain attention, Atchley said the research area is an important one.

“On a long drive that is pretty boring, you start to space out, lose attention and it becomes less safe,” he said.


Soapbox 7 years ago

Now does question 7 have A. B. C. D. as answers or is it question 11 and are not the answers to question 10 actually supposed to be under question 22?

Kontum1972 7 years ago about giving us the dollar amount was involved in this study...?

persevering_gal 7 years ago

How about asking how much people pay him to do this study? Professor Atchley is a well-respected professor who has presented informative research (not just this study), that may get more people to realize the dangers of talking or texting on a cell phone.

hujiko 7 years ago

Students taking certain psychology classes are required to complete a predetermined amount of research studies for a grade. I took part in one of Dr. Atchley's studies similar to this although it did not involve a cell phone conversation, so it's funded by the school on a budget most likely proportional to the amount of students enrolled in psychology courses.

Ken Lassman 7 years ago

Seems that if ongoing phone conversations don't work but a conversation during the last 5 minutes of the trip does alert the mind, the same could very well be true about books on tape, putting on some invigorating/favorite music of the driver during that last stretch. Just because books on tape didn't work if it were played throughout the trip doesn't mean that it wouldn't work during the last stretch. But since you're looking for a relatively short attention-raising activity that would parallel the phone call, seems like picking a favorite song or two might be just as effective as the phone call without the hazards that come with cell phone use while driving.

May I suggest that Dr. Atchley add this to his research? What besides cell phones works during that last stretch?

And, by the way, I'm never bored driving through western Kansas. Love it out there.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 7 years ago

If you're tired, trying rolling the window down. Telling people to talk on cell phones is ridiculous.

vigil05 6 years, 12 months ago

The data do not appear to support the windows down and/or Turn-up the A/C hypothesis.

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