New Zealand expert advocates ban on cell use while driving

June 13th, 2008 - 2:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, June 13 (IANS) Motorists who use cellphones while driving make as many, if not more, driving errors as clinically drunk drivers, according to an expert who advocates a ban on their use while driving. Michael Townsend, a educational psychologist in New Zealand, had earlier conducted an observational study that found four percent of Auckland drivers using cellphones while driving.

The percentage would only have risen in line with the increase in cellphone connections, he pointed out.

International research has also shown that using a cellphone when driving results in “cognitive overload”, causing the same or higher rates of driver error as a drunk driver, Townsend noted.

The risk of collision is four times greater when driving while using a cell phone, while the risk of a collision resulting in death is nine times higher.

“While four percent might not sound sufficient to justify a ban, people can better comprehend the level of danger by imagining - as they drive home on a busy motorway - that one in every 25 cars coming towards them is being driven by a clinically drunk driver,” said Townsend.

Concentrating on a conversation, not simply the physical act of holding a cell phone, is what distracts the driver, he said.

“The nature of the conversation matters too, with deep and meaningful dialogues creating a greater distraction and added risk than small talk.”

Townsend admitted to having been won over by cellphones after having refused to carry one until three months ago.

And he now understands the compulsion to answer a cellphone call when driving because he has done so himself. He even admitted to having sent a text message while in a line of slow-moving traffic.

“A ban would act as a deterrent for many people whose inclination to use a cellphone while driving prevails over common sense and self-preservation.”

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