Archive for Thursday, June 20, 2013

KU professor says phones, cars shouldn’t mix

June 20, 2013


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Paul Atchley, Kansas University psychology professor

Paul Atchley, Kansas University psychology professor

You might be able to compose a text message or an email from your driver's seat without using your hands. But you can't do it without using your brain.

That is why a study released last week found that hands-free speech-to-text features can be a big distraction for drivers, even worse than talking on a cell phone, said Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at Kansas University. The study reported that using those services, increasingly included in new phones and cars as a way to write messages using spoken words, scored at about a 3 on a five-point scale of distraction. That's compared with less than 2.5 for talking on a cell phone, whether held in the driver’s hand or used with a hands-free feature.

The problem, Atchley said, might be that drivers use the same part of their brain to navigate menus and visualize a message that they use to navigate the road and look at their surroundings.

"It's no surprise that it's extremely distracting," said Atchley, who served as an adviser for the University of Utah researchers who authored the study.

The findings were released last week by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety as part of a wide-ranging look at different distractions posed to drivers. And Atchley says it represents some of the most convincing evidence yet that electronic devices can be deadly distractions for drivers, even if they’re not holding them in their hands.

As the study's authors wrote, "Simply put, hands-free does not mean risk-free."

Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the distraction caused by electronic devices in cars, including several by Atchley. But few have combined laboratory tests of brain activity with actual on-the-road tests of reaction times, as the AAA one did.

“When all those things point in the same direction, it paints a very convincing case,” Atchley said.

Atchley has researched distracted driving for years and been featured by several national news outlets on the subject of texting or talking while driving, including an appearance on NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” in January. He and Ruth Ann Atchley — another KU psychologist, and Paul’s wife — both offered assistance with the AAA study before and after it was underway.

His research has shown, he said, that electronic devices impair drivers because they require certain parts of the brain to do multiple things at once.

Though they might seem like simple tasks, talking and listening occupy cognitive real estate in the brain. And dealing with electronic menus and commands without the benefit of looking at a screen can take up even more energy.

“Anyone who’s ever been frustrated with their computer knows how difficult technology can be, even when it seems really simple,” Atchley said.

Falling much lower, between 1 and 2, on the study’s five-point distraction scale were listening to the radio or to books on tape. That kind of passive activity allows drivers to more easily tune out for a few minutes if the road demands their attention, Atchley said.

But the bottom line, he said, is that trying to perform other tasks like talking or texting while driving is just too dangerous a bet.

His advice is the same as it’s been for years: Leave your phone in the trunk when you drive, whether or not you need your hands to use it.

“I always worry when we use technology to solve the problems that technology creates,” Atchley said, “because we have a tendency to make things worse than they were even to begin with.”


onewillow 4 years, 11 months ago

So, ok, lets pass a law against the following: Eating while driving, putting makeup on while driving, talking to a passenger while driving, listening to the radio while driving, singing while driving, sightseeing while driving and lastly scratching any body part while driving.

wastewatcher 4 years, 11 months ago

Notice another example of the incestuous nature of KU. Husband and wife both faculty members!!!!!!

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 11 months ago

Definition of incest (noun):

1) Sexual relations between people classed as being too closely related to marry each other.
2) The crime of having sexual intercourse with a parent, child, sibling, or grandchild.

Note that being faculty members at the same institution is not part of the definition.

parrothead8 4 years, 11 months ago

How is a husband and wife working at the same employer an example of incest?

jesse499 4 years, 11 months ago

There is a lot of other company's with this same problem if it is a problem personally I don't see it.

merickson 4 years, 11 months ago

If I can chime in: Hiring spouses together is a pretty common practice in higher education. They call it "spousal accomodation." Here's a story about it from a while back:


Matt Erickson

KU reporter

vanessaliobanewton 4 years, 11 months ago

There has actually been some good research done regarding cell phone usage and driving. Strayer and Johnston did a nice research article (Driven to distraction) that conducted various experiments that I highly recommend reading if you want more info regarding how cell phone usage affects driving. This research comes from a cognitive POV and looks at your ability to divide attention and allocate resources to do both and how that impairs your driving.

purplesage 4 years, 11 months ago

A PhD validates what we all know . . .

Wonder what this study cost?

blindrabbit 4 years, 11 months ago

More a case for a nepotitious (sp) hiring than an incestuous situation. Have to wonder about the wisdom of such employment arrangements regardless of the naming!

But agree with their conclusions; ought to adopt what I observed "out West", drivers in California, Oregon and Washington appear to be conditioned to not cell phone talking while driving! Observed a lot of people "pulled over" to the side of the road to carry on cell phone conversations.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Drowsy Drivers = a problem

Power naps help a lot so says voice of experience. KDOT should provide more rest stops along the way. Or drivers can pull off onto a ramp and do 10 minute power naps. Otherwise do rest stops .

In a city limit situation pull in most anywhere for a power nap.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 11 months ago

read the story, research was worthwhile: reaction time was part of the study. study put some actual quantification I assume.

it's one thing to say "I know that's happening."

it's another thing to say "we know how much, to what degree etc."

Atchley is a very good researcher, worth his salt.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 11 months ago

so one very silly poster above calls the hiring of husband and wife "incestuous."

then another very silly poster slimes the first by trying to claim he's "tea Party."

"tea Party?" what does that have to do with his?

*and btw, Mrs. Atchley Ph.D. is an equally fine and qualified researcher, too.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Why not simply pull over to make a call or receive a call?

Imagine how distracting an argument might be...

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 11 months ago

This guy seems to get in the LJW every six months or so with the same "finding": cell phones are bad to use while driving.

How many times can you find that cell phones and driving don't mix? We know. You showed us five years ago. Any new insights?

Carol Bowen 4 years, 11 months ago

Cell phones are addictive. Users cannot do without them. Cell phones affect the user's behavior, sometimes the users are belligerent and definitely discourteous. The problem is not age-specific. How can anyone consider safety when they are addictive to cell phones?

Centerville 4 years, 11 months ago

Purple Sage: How much did the study cost? Good question. Here's another: Who paid for it? Answer: people who work hard enough and smart enough to have to pay income taxes, and most of those people are very able to talk on their cell phones and drive at the same time. If we legislate against their productivity, we won't have the money to hire studies to tut-tut at them.

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