1. Study suggests perceptual judgment, motor skills not fully developed until age 14

    April 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa press release:

    For adults, crossing the street by foot seems easy. You take stock of the traffic and calculate the time it will take to get from one side to the other without being hit.

    Yet it’s anything but simple for a child.

    New research from the University of Iowa shows children under certain ages lack the perceptual judgment and motor skills to cross a busy road consistently without putting themselves in danger. The researchers placed children from 6 to 14 years old in a realistic simulated environment and asked them to cross one lane of a busy road multiple times.

    The results: Children up to their early teenage years had difficulty consistently crossing the street safely, with accident rates as high as 8 percent with 6-year-olds. Only by age 14 did children navigate street crossing without incident, while 12-year-olds mostly compensated for inferior road-crossing motor skills by choosing bigger gaps in traffic.

    “Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street,” says Jodie Plumert, professor in the UI’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “Our study shows that’s not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn’t stop.”

    For parents, that means taking extra precautions. Be aware that your child may struggle with identifying gaps in traffic large enough to cross safely. Young children also may not have developed the fine motor skills to step into the street the moment a car has passed, like adults have mastered. And, your child may allow eagerness to outweigh reason when judging the best time to cross a busy street.

    “They get the pressure of not wanting to wait combined with these less-mature abilities,” says Plumert, corresponding author on the study, which appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, published by the American Psychological Association. “And that’s what makes it a risky situation.”

    The National Center for Statistics and Analysis reported 8,000 injuries and 207 fatalities involving motor vehicles and pedestrians age 14 and younger in 2014.

    Plumert and her team wanted to understand the reasons behind the accident rates. For the study, they recruited children who were 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 years old, as well as a control group of adults. Each participant faced a string of approaching virtual vehicles travelling 25 mph (considered a benchmark speed for a residential neighborhood) and then crossed a single lane of traffic (about nine feet wide). The time between vehicles ranged from two to five seconds. Each participant negotiated a road crossing 20 times, for about 2,000 total trips involving the age groups.

    The crossings took place in an immersive, 3-D interactive space at the Hank Virtual Environments Lab on the UI campus. The simulated environment is “very compelling,” says Elizabeth O’Neal, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences and the study’s first author. “We often had kids reach out and try to touch the cars.”

    The researchers found 6-year-olds were struck by vehicles 8 percent of the time; 8-year-olds were struck 6 percent; 10-year-olds were struck 5 percent; and 12-year-olds were struck 2 percent. Those age 14 and older had no accidents.

    Children contend with two main variables when deciding whether it’s safe to cross a street, according to the research. The first involves their perceptual ability, or how they judge the gap between a passing car and an oncoming vehicle, taking into account the oncoming car’s speed and distance from the crossing. Younger children, the study found, had more difficulty making consistently accurate perceptual decisions.

    The second variable was their motor skills: How quickly do children time their step from the curb into the street after a car just passed? Younger children were incapable of timing that first step as precisely as adults, which in effect gave them less time to cross the street before the next car arrived.

    “Most kids choose similar size gaps (between the passing car and oncoming vehicle) as adults,” O’Neal says, “but they’re not able to time their movement into traffic as well as adults can.”

    The researchers found children as young as 6 crossed the street as quickly as adults, eliminating crossing speed as a possible cause for pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

    So what’s a child to do? One recommendation is for parents to teach their children to be patient and to encourage younger ones to choose gaps that are even larger than the gaps adults would choose for themselves, O’Neal says. Also, civic planners can help by identifying places where children are likely to cross streets and make sure those intersections have a pedestrian-crossing aid.

    “If there are places where kids are highly likely to cross the road, because it’s the most efficient route to school, for example, and traffic doesn’t stop there, it would be wise to have crosswalks,” Plumert says.


  2. Study suggests hands-free technology may still affect driver attention

    April 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society press release:

    Drivers commonly perform secondary tasks while behind the wheel to navigate or communicate with others, which has led to a significant increase in the number of injuries and fatalities attributed to distracted driving. Advances in wearable technology, particularly devices such as Google Glass, which feature voice control and head-up display (HUD) functionalities, raise questions about how these devices might impact driver attention when used in vehicles. New human factors/ergonomics research examines how these interface characteristics can have a deleterious effect on safety.

    In their Human Factors article, “Driving While Interacting With Google Glass: Investigating the Combined Effect of Head-Up Display and Hands-Free Input on Driving Safety and Multitask Performance,” authors Kathryn Tippey, Elayaraj Sivaraj, and Thomas Ferris observed the performance of 24 participants in a driving simulator. The participants engaged in four texting-while-driving tasks: baseline (driving only), and driving plus reading and responding to text messages via (a) a smartphone keyboard, (b) a smartphone voice-to text system, and (c) Google Glass’s voice-to-text system using HUD.

    The authors found that driving performance degraded regardless of secondary texting task type, but manual entry led to slower reaction times and significantly more eyes-off-road glances than voice-to-text input using both smartphones and Google Glass. Glass’ HUD function required only a change in eye direction to read and respond to text messages, rather than the more disruptive change in head and body posture associated with smartphones. Participants also reported that Glass was easier to use and interfered less with driving than did the other devices tested.

    Tippey, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Research and Innovation in Systems Safety at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says, “Our evidence suggests that adding voice input and using an HUD can make secondary tasks like texting while driving less unsafe. However, regardless of entry or display method, it is not safe to perform these types of secondary task while driving in environments where the workload from driving is already heavy.”


  3. Drivers who slow down while using mobile phones may potentially increase on-road conflicts

    April 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    Drivers who slow down while using mobile phones have the potential to increase on-road conflicts, a new QUT study warns.

    Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, from QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety — Queensland (CARRS-Q), said distracted drivers reducing their speed might sound favourable in terms of safety, but it could also lead to other types of crash risk.

    Drivers frustrated by following slow moving vehicles whose drivers have reduced speed to keep talking on their phones may perform aggressive overtaking manoeuvres, increasing the crash risk for other road users,” he said.

    The results of the study “Effects of road infrastructure and traffic complexity in speed adaptation behaviour of distracted drivers” have been published in the leading road safety journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said using a mobile phone while driving had been shown to increase crash risk four-fold.

    “Young drivers are particularly at risk as there is a greater prevalence of driving while using a mobile phone in this age group.

    “While it’s illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving in Australia research has shown drivers continue to adopt the dangerous practice.”

    In a bid to highlight the dangers but also identify possible solutions, Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios’ research has looked at the way drivers react and respond to mobile phone use behind the wheel.

    “We found that on average distracted drivers travel at about 5km/h slower when following another vehicle and almost 3km/h slower in free-flowing traffic.

    “The negative consequences this has on other road users include increased risk of nose-to-tail crashes as a result of sudden stopping, perception of discourteous or aggressive driver behaviour, as well congestion to the transport system,” he said.

    “I guess the question needs to be asked, do we really want to sacrifice safety, efficiency and courtesy just to have a conversation?”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said the research also suggested ideas for safe ways to use mobile phones while driving.

    “We need to consider that if we can’t stop drivers using their mobile phones, is there a way to make it safe?

    “For example, changing the design of mobile phones so they are context-aware and only work when it is safe to do so.

    “Other options maybe looking at advances in technology and developing warning systems that alert drivers when they are distracted, or advise drivers of when it is safe to use their phone handsfree.”


  4. Study suggests cellphone distraction an issue for pedestrians as well

    June 28, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release via EurekAlert!:

    Cellphone walkingMore than 1,500 pedestrians were estimated to be treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries related to using a cell phone while walking, according to a new nationwide study.

    The number of such injuries has more than doubled since 2005, even though the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that time. And researchers believe that the actual number of injured pedestrians is actually much higher than these results suggest.

    “If current trends continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of injuries to pedestrians caused by cell phones doubles again between 2010 and 2015,” said Jack Nasar, co-author of the study and professor of city and regional planning at The Ohio State University.

    “The role of cell phones in distracted driving injuries and deaths gets a lot of attention and rightly so, but we need to also consider the danger cell phone use poses to pedestrians.”

    The study found that young people aged 16 to 25 were most likely to be injured as distracted pedestrians, and most were hurt while talking rather than texting.

    Nasar conducted the study with Derek Troyer, a former graduate student at Ohio State.  It appears in the August 2013 issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

    The researchers used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database maintained by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), which samples injury reports from 100 hospitals around the country.  These reports are used to estimate total injury occurrences at emergency rooms across the country.

    They examined data for seven years (from 2004 to 2010) involving injuries related to cell phone use for pedestrians in public areas (in other words, not at home).

    A wide variety of injuries were reported.  One 14-year-old boy walking down a road while talking on a cell phone fell 6 to 8 feet off a bridge into a rock-strewn ditch, suffering chest and shoulder injuries.  A 23-year-old man was struck by a car while walking on the middle line of a road and talking on a cell phone, injuring his hip.

    Findings showed that in 2004, an estimated 559 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for injuries received while using a cell phone.  That number dropped to 256 in 2005, but has risen every year since then.  Meanwhile, the total number of pedestrians estimated to be treated in emergency rooms dropped from 97,000 in 2004 to 41,000 in 2010.

    Nasar said he believes the number of injuries to distracted pedestrians is actually much higher than these statistics suggest.

    He said a more accurate count of injuries to walkers might come from comparing distracted walking to distracted driving, which has been much more heavily studied.

    Nasar compared CPSC estimates for injuries related to drivers distracted by cell phones with actual data from emergency rooms across the country.  Recent research examining increases in traffic accidents related to cell phone use suggests that the number of crash-related injuries in emergency rooms is actually about 1,300 times higher than CPSC national estimates, Nasar said.

    Such data isn’t available to compare CPSC estimates with actual injuries to distracted pedestrians.  But if the pedestrian numbers are similar to those for drivers, then there may have been about 2 million pedestrian injuries related to mobile phone use in 2010.

    Moreover, Nasar said he believes emergency room numbers underestimate actual injuries because not every person who is injured goes to an emergency room. Uninsured people might not go at all. Other people might take care of themselves, or go to an urgent care center.  In addition, not everyone who does go to an emergency room reports using a cell phone.

    “It is impossible to say whether 2 million distracted pedestrians are really injured each year.  But I think it is safe to say that the numbers we have are much lower than what is really happening,” Nasar said.

    As might be expected, young people are the most likely to be injured by distracted walking.  The 21- to 25-year-old age group led the way, with 1,003 total injuries during the seven years covered by this study.  The 16- to 20-year-olds were not far behind, with 985 total injuries.

    For pedestrians, talking on the phone accounted for about 69 percent of injuries, compared to texting, which accounted for about 9 percent.

    Nasar said he doesn’t think the lower texting injury rate is because texting is necessarily safer than talking and walking.  Instead, it is probably because fewer people actually text while walking than talk while on foot.

    The problem with distracted pedestrians is likely to get worse, he said.

    “As more people get cell phones and spend more time using them, the number of injuries is likely to increase as well. Now people are playing games and using social media on their phones too,” he said.

    Nasar said he believes the best way to reverse these numbers is to start changing norms for cell phone use in our society.  And that starts with parents.

    “Parents already teach their children to look both ways when crossing the street.  They should also teach them to put away their cell phone when walking, particularly when crossing a street.”


  5. Study suggests hands-free talking and texting are unsafe

    June 27, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Utah press release via EurekAlert!:

    Cellphone DistractionUsing hands-free devices to talk, text or send e-mail while driving is distracting and risky, contrary to what many people believe, says a new University of Utah study issued today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    “Our research shows that hands-free is not risk-free,” says University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, lead author of the study, which he conducted for the foundation arm of the nonprofit AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association.

    These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver’s attention and impair their ability to drive safely,” says Strayer. “An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer – by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems – may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”

    Just because you can update Facebook while driving doesn’t mean that it is safe to do so,” he adds. “Don’t assume that if your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel that you are unimpaired. If you don’t pay attention then you are a potential hazard on the roadway.”

    In a 2006 study, Strayer first showed talking on a hands-free cell phone was just as distracting as using a hand-held phone while driving, but the message has failed to fully connect with the public, with many people believing hands-free devices are safer. But now, with the backing of the AAA, Strayer hopes people realize they are risking their lives and those of others by using distracting hands-free phone, e-mailing, texting and social media technologies while driving.

    Strayer conducted the study with these other members of the University of Utah Department of Psychology: Joel M. Cooper, research assistant professor of psychology; and doctoral students Jonna Turrill, James Coleman and Nate Medeiros-Ward and Francesco Biondi.


  6. Study suggests listening to music while driving may not affect driver performance

    June 18, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Groningen press release via ScienceDaily:

    Young DriverMost drivers enjoy listening to the radio or their favourite CD while driving. Many of them switch on the radio without thinking. But is this safe?

    Experiments carried out by environment and traffic psychologist Ayça Berfu Ünal suggest that it makes very little difference. In fact the effects that were measured turned out to be positive. Music helps drivers to focus, particularly on long, monotonous roads. Ünal will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 10 June 2013.

    Experienced motorists between 25 and 35 years of age are perfectly capable of focusing on the road while listening to music or the radio, even when driving in busy urban traffic. Ünal makes short shrift of the commonly held idea that motorists who listen to music drive too fast or ignore the traffic regulations. Ünal: ‘I found nothing to support this view in my research. On the contrary, our test subjects enjoyed listening to the music and did their utmost to be responsible drivers. They sometimes drove better while listening to music.’ Ünal did not try to find out whether there was a difference between listening to music or talk shows on the radio.

    Monotonous roads

    Although this is not the first piece of research that examines the influence of listening to music or the radio on driving performance, Ünal is the first person to use different traffic situations for her experiments with the simulator. ‘For example, we asked participants to drive behind another vehicle for half an hour on a quiet road. As you would expect, it became very tedious. But the people who listened to music were more focused on driving and performed better than those without music. It’s fairly logical: people need a certain degree of ‘arousal’ (a state of being alert caused by external stimulation of the brain) to stop themselves getting bored. In monotonous traffic situations, music is a good distraction that helps you keep your mind on the road.”

    Safety first

    Motorists need to concentrate harder in busy urban traffic than on quiet roads. Ünal: ‘A motorist’s natural reaction is to turn the sound down or even switch the radio off. This was not allowed during the experiments. As a result, we noted that the participants focused more on the traffic and didn’t remember what had been on the radio afterwards. Safety comes first at moments like this and the participants were able to block out the distraction (in this case the music or radio). This also occurs when drivers are asked to perform a special manoeuvre, such as reversing into a parking space. Our findings do not indicate that people listening to music drive less well in busy traffic. The research showed that background music can actually help motorists to concentrate, both in busy and quiet traffic.’

    No difference in types of music

    Ünal initially wanted to find out whether the type of music made any difference. ‘This wasn’t realistic. Participants forced to listen to music they didn’t like just wanted to get the experiment over and done with. In reality, you only listen to music that you enjoy, so we left the choice to them.’ She did not study whether there was a difference between listening to music and listening to talk shows on the radio. ‘People can listen to music in the background, while they tend to concentrate on the news and put more mental effort into it, particularly if they find an item interesting. That’s why making phone calls in the car is so dangerous: talking on the phone while driving makes huge mental demands on motorists. I’d quite like to study the effect of music and making phone calls while on the bike. The Netherlands is full of cyclists so this would be a highly relevant research subject.’

    Follow-up study of older and younger motorists

    Ünal’s main conclusion is that when people take account of the traffic situation and their own driving skills, music makes very little difference to their performance as drivers: ‘It’s important to know your limits. Some people are much more affected by loud music than others. I’d also be interested to see whether older motorists of seventy and above, and young people learning to drive, cope with the distraction of the radio in the same way. I could imagine that music might be too distracting while you’re just learning to drive. And at the other end of the scale, people’s cognitive capacities diminish as they get older so I’m curious to know how they react to the mental demands of driving at the same time as the listening to music.’


  7. Study examines how to talk about “driving retirement”

    June 11, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Colorado Denver press release via EurekAlert!:

    Senior DriverClinicians often wait too long before talking to elderly patients about giving up driving even though many may be open to those discussions earlier, according to a new study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the CU College of Nursing.

    These conversations often don’t happen until clinicians see a ‘red flag’ which could mean an accident or some physical problem that makes driving more difficult for the elderly,” said Marian Betz, MD, MPH, at the CU School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “But what’s interesting is that most elderly drivers we spoke with said they were open to having earlier discussions.”

    The study, published last week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, involved focus groups and interviews with 33 drivers over age 65 and eight health care providers including physicians, nurses and physician assistants. The research was done at three clinics at the CU School of Medicine, and drivers were recruited from a local senior center and senior living community.

    The study found that while clinicians were often the first to raise the subject of elderly drivers handing over their car keys, they tended to wait for ‘red flags’ before bringing it up. They also reported that those conversations were usually “unpleasant.”

    Elderly drivers, meanwhile, said they were open to these discussions and generally saw their medical providers as “fair minded.” At the same time, the majority said they didn’t believe their providers were aware of their driving status or ability. The elderly also tended to see a smaller role for family members in conversations about whether they should stop driving.

    “Driving is linked to independence and asking for someone’s keys is very emotional,” said Betz, who conducted an earlier study on creating advanced directives to help drivers plan for future changes in driving. “Studies have shown that most people outlive their ability to drive safely by more than six years.”

    Betz said health care providers should start conversations with elderly drivers earlier, perhaps at age 65 when Medicare benefits kick in. That way, drivers can be thinking about it years before having to make the decision.

    “A primary theme that emerged from this study was the overall importance of improved communication about driving safety,” the study said. “Both clinicians and drivers supported the idea of regular questioning about driving as a way to make it an easier topic, as patients might be more receptive if they heard it once before.

    The researchers recommended a practice known as ‘anticipatory guidance’ in gently preparing elderly drivers, by monitoring physical and mental changes, for the day when they could no longer operate a vehicle safely. Doctors could include driving status in their patient questionnaires and talk about it during regular office visits, they said.

    “It’s not just about taking the keys, it’s about making plans,” said Betz, an emergency room physician. “Drivers in our studies reported needing help in preparing for that transition, including learning about transportation alternatives.”

    Issues surrounding elderly drivers have been around for decades, but with 10,000 baby-boomers turning 65 every each day, it has taken on a new urgency.

    “It is now a public health issue,” Betz said. “Driving is such an important part to living in America. Mobility is critical, mobility is freedom. But at some point most people will develop difficulties with driving, so we all need to prepare for it.”


  8. Study suggests hands-free talking while driving lead to spike in errors

    June 5, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Alberta press release via ScienceDaily:

    Cellphone DistractionTalking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

    A pilot study by Yagesh Bhambhani, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and his graduate student Mayank Rehani, showed that drivers who talk using a hands-free cellular device made significantly more driving errors — such as crossing the centre line, speeding and changing lanes without signalling — compared with just driving alone. The jump in errors also corresponded with a spike in heart rate and brain activity.

    “It is commonplace knowledge, but for some reason it is not getting into the public conscience that the safest thing to do while driving is to focus on the road,” said Rehani, who completed the research for his master’s thesis in rehabilitation science at the U of A.

    The researchers became interested in the topic in 2009 shortly after Alberta introduced legislation that banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving but not hands-free devices. In this study, they used near infrared spectroscopy to study the brain activity of 26 participants who completed a driving course using the Virage VS500M driving simulator at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

    Near infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive optical technique that allows researchers to examine real-time changes in brain activity in the left prefrontal lobe. Participants were first tested in a control condition, using the simulator to drive in city street conditions using no telecommunications device. They were tested again while talking on a hands-free device during two-minute conversations that avoided emotionally charged topics.

    The research team found there was a significant increase in brain activity while talking on a hands-free device compared with the control condition. A majority of participants showed a significant increase in oxyhemoglobin in the brain, with a simultaneous drop in deoxyhemoglobin — a sign of enhanced neuronal activation during hands-free telecommunication.

    “The findings also indicated that blood flow to the brain is significantly increased during hands-free telecommunication in order to meet the oxygen demands of the neurons under the ‘distracted’ condition,” said Bhambhani.

    He added the results did not reveal a significant relationship between enhanced neuronal activation and the increase in the number of driving errors, most likely because the near infrared spectroscopy measurements were recorded from a single site, the prefrontal lobe.

    The findings are considered novel on a topic that is receiving considerable attention by policy-makers globally. Rehani’s contribution to the project earned him the 2013 Alberta Rehabilitation Award for Innovation in Rehabilitation (Student).

    The researchers note this is a preliminary study and hope that it can be part of a larger body of literature that can help inform policy-makers about the safety implications of using hands-free devices while driving.

    For Rehani, the work was part of rewarding academic journey at the U of A, which gave him opportunities to do research in a number of areas in neuroscience. He said he received outstanding support from both the faculty and colleagues at the Glenrose — including Quentin Ranson, the occupational therapist and rehabilitation technology lead who helped facilitate the simulator research.

    “To have a Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, which is the only free-standing faculty of its kind in Western Canada, and to have a hospital like the Glenrose dedicated to rehabilitation, is amazing,” he said. “Both workplaces have such a collegial environment, with quality faculty and staff who are both working toward patient betterment. These institutions connect so well, it’s fantastic.”


  9. Study examines demographic profile of people who use cellphones while driving

    June 3, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Alberta press release via EurekAlert!:

    Cellphone DistractionIf you’re still using your mobile phone behind the wheel, University of Alberta sociology researcher Abu Nurullah likely has your number.

    More specifically, he can tell what statistical category you fall under. Using survey data from mid-2011—just months before Alberta’s distracted-driving law went into effect—Nurullah and his colleagues determined several characteristics of people who appear to top the risk scale by using cellphones while driving. The data are useful for police who have to deal with unlawful drive-and-dialers, and for policy-makers seeking to change offenders’ habits with ad campaigns.

    Nurullah says that although campaigns are an important piece of curbing the behaviour, social pressure from family and friends is also important.

    “I think the social influence is the key one. Friends, family, employers—they should be influencing others to reduce the use of cellphones while driving,” he said. “Effective enforcement of the laws should include not only fines for such offences, but also mandatory lessons on the dangers of cellphone use while operating a vehicle.”

    Driving demographics: Mobile phone use by the numbers:

    • Men outnumbered women by almost 10 per cent in phone use while driving. The largest proportion of offenders in both groups fell in the 35-to-44 age category.
    • The majority of mobile users had completed post-secondary education.
    • Among income brackets, the lowest income earners had the lowest level of cellphone use while driving. Rates of use increased with each income category, with those earning over $100,000 per year being the top users.
    • A slight majority of users indicated not being religious.

    “These stats can be used to identify the worst offenders for effective enforcement of laws that deter cellphone use while operating a vehicle,” said Nurullah. “Since males are more likely to undertake risky driving, it is expected that they would use cellphones more in driving situations.”

    Attitude adjustment: Social pressure and education critical

    The survey also highlighted people’s perceptions of the dangers of using a cellphone while driving. The majority of people—those who used cellphones while driving and those who didn’t—agreed that texting while driving was dangerous and that cellphone use was more likely to result in a collision. But a much smaller minority said they didn’t believe cellphone use is as dangerous as impaired driving.

    Though the legislation introduced in 2011 may have curbed some use, Nurullah says that a common levelling-off effect means other measures need to be put in place to convince itinerant talkers to hang up and drive.

    “There should be an emphasis on educating people about this, changing people’s mindsets about doing this, because it is risky,” he said. “There is no alternative to social pressure because it is more effective than legal enforcement. Social media campaigns can also be designed to make people informed about safe driving practices involving the use of cellphones.”

     


  10. Study suggests driving and hands-free talking lead to spike in errors

    May 29, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Alberta press release via EurekAlert!:

    driving_trafficTalking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

    A pilot study by Yagesh Bhambhani, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and his graduate student Mayank Rehani, showed that drivers who talk using a hands-free cellular device made significantly more driving errors—such as crossing the centre line, speeding and changing lanes without signalling—compared with just driving alone. The jump in errors also corresponded with a spike in heart rate and brain activity.

    “It is commonplace knowledge, but for some reason it is not getting into the public conscience that the safest thing to do while driving is to focus on the road,” said Rehani, who completed the research for his master’s thesis in rehabilitation science at the U of A.

    The researchers became interested in the topic in 2009 shortly after Alberta introduced legislation that banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving but not hands-free devices. In this study, they used near infrared spectroscopy to study the brain activity of 26 participants who completed a driving course using the Virage VS500M driving simulator at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

    Near infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive optical technique that allows researchers to examine real-time changes in brain activity in the left prefrontal lobe. Participants were first tested in a control condition, using the simulator to drive in city street conditions using no telecommunications device. They were tested again while talking on a hands-free device during two-minute conversations that avoided emotionally charged topics.

    The research team found there was a significant increase in brain activity while talking on a hands-free device compared with the control condition. A majority of participants showed a significant increase in oxyhemoglobin in the brain, with a simultaneous drop in deoxyhemoglobin—a sign of enhanced neuronal activation during hands-free telecommunication.

    “The findings also indicated that blood flow to the brain is significantly increased during hands-free telecommunication in order to meet the oxygen demands of the neurons under the ‘distracted’ condition,” said Bhambhani.

    He added the results did not reveal a significant relationship between enhanced neuronal activation and the increase in the number of driving errors, most likely because the near infrared spectroscopy measurements were recorded from a single site, the prefrontal lobe.

    The findings are considered novel on a topic that is receiving considerable attention by policy-makers globally. Rehani’s contribution to the project earned him the 2013 Alberta Rehabilitation Award for Innovation in Rehabilitation (Student).

    The researchers note this is a preliminary study and hope that it can be part of a larger body of literature that can help inform policy-makers about the safety implications of using hands-free devices while driving.

    For Rehani, the work was part of rewarding academic journey at the U of A, which gave him opportunities to do research in a number of areas in neuroscience. He said he received outstanding support from both the faculty and colleagues at the Glenrose—including Quentin Ranson, the occupational therapist and rehabilitation technology lead who helped facilitate the simulator research.

    “To have a Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, which is the only free-standing faculty of its kind in Western Canada, and to have a hospital like the Glenrose dedicated to rehabilitation, is amazing,” he said. “Both workplaces have such a collegial environment, with quality faculty and staff who are both working toward patient betterment. These institutions connect so well, it’s fantastic.”