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A surprising study on cellphone use for drivers

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Greg Peck
January 2, 2014

A story in today's Gazette grabbed my attention like a car blowing a stoplight. A new study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute agrees with previous ones that risks of a crash skyrocket when a driver dials, texts or reaches for a cellphone. However, the study also found a surprise: no evidence of increased risks when talking on a phone while driving.

The researchers acknowledge that the simple task of reaching for and dialing that phone do raise the risks of a crash, even if the simple act of talking on the phone do not. I agree with David Strayer, a University of Utah scientist who has researched this topic previously. He told The Associated Press that this new study might have used flawed methods because it relied on on-board video cameras to capture wandering eyes but couldn't measure cognitive distractions. The cameras, he reasoned, might not detect such problems as running a red light unless a crash occurred.

The study, paid for by the National Institutes of Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was being published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

I don't know about you, but I rarely talk on a phone while driving. I try to do so only when I'm not in heavy traffic because I believe using a cellphone does distract from driving. Besides, from anecdotal evidence I've gathered as a driver and pedestrian in Janesville, I find that drivers on cellphones are more likely to ignore pedestrians, less likely to use turn signals (Hey, that signal switch might be out of reach for the one hand on the wheel when the other is holding the phone.) and more likely to drive the wrong way on a one-way street.

Wisconsin is one of 41 states that bans texting while driving, but that tough-to-enforce law doesn't seem to deter too many Badger State drivers.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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