What do Senators, Cell Phones and Passengers all have in common?

i-1aebabbd4df65bfe6e6b028dc0a3211e-carphone.jpgAnswer...They're all involved in car accidents.
Our first story is brought to you by California State Senator Carole Migden who recently voted for a bill banning cell phone use while driving. I'm sure you can guess what happened... yeah exactly... she was chatting on her cell phone and ran into a cute little Honda, sending the driver to the hospital with minor injuries. Ooops.

Our final story shows that annoying friend you have might just cause you an accident if they are blabbing away in your front seat while you're driving. This is of course in addition to making you crash when they call you on your cellphone on the way back home from the body shop with your newly fixed car. Here's the details for this one:

The new study, by The George Institute for International Health, was designed to determine the risk of a crash associated with passenger carriage compared with that of using a mobile phone while driving. Both the carrying of passengers, and having a larger number of passengers in the car, are associated with an increased likelihood of a crash, though not to the same extent as mobile phone use. Earlier studies at The George Institute found that a driver's use of a mobile phone was associated with a four-fold increase in the likelihood of crashing.

The study's lead investigator, Dr Suzanne McEvoy, says that "carrying passengers in the car has a number of potentially distracting effects that also occur with mobile phone use while driving. Moreover, carrying passengers may have additional effects on the driver, including peer influence."

"Drivers with passengers were almost 60% more likely to have a motor vehicle crash resulting in hospital attendance, irrespective of their age group. The likelihood of a crash was more than doubled in the presence of two or more passengers," noted Dr McEvoy.

The study did find, however, that the passenger-related risk is considerably lower than that associated with mobile phone use while driving. The George Institute's Professor Mark Stevenson, who also contributed to the study, suggested that "In contrast to mobile phone use, passengers, with some exceptions, are generally aware of the road conditions and can moderate their conversation as needed."

More like this

You might have heard this advice before, but the National Safety Council has just made it official: They call on motorists to stop using cell phones â even those with hands-free attachments â while driving. Theyâre also urging state governments to pass laws banning phoning and text messaging while…
[This article was originally published in January of 2007] Many many studies have repeatedly shown the dangers of driving while using a cell phone. Yesterday, while discussing a new law in Britain imposing heavy penalties not only for driving using a handheld phone, but also while using phones with…
Many many studies have repeatedly shown the dangers of driving while using a cell phone. Yesterday, while discussing a new law in Britain imposing heavy penalties not only for driving using a handheld phone, but also while using phones with hands-free kits, commenter Jan claimed that talking to a…
Don't ask me why I am so fixated on this topic but whenever I see an article about driving and cell phone use I post on it (example here). The idea that talking on the phone, dialing or texting while driving might be a wee bit of a cognitive problem doesn't seem too controversial, but many people…

I'd be interested in seeing the details of the methods of this study involving carrying passengers. I definitely think that passengers are distracting, especially if they're children and/or people who are paying zero attention to what's happening on the road.

On the other hand, attentive passengers can help (even if you're sort of chatting with them about other things.) Moreover, conversations with passengers can keep you awake. It is because of the awakeness thing that I think I'm a much safer driver with someone else in the car than I am alone.

So, I'm wondering if there might be a difference between highway/long haul accidents versus city/short-drive accidents when passengers are involved. I would think that in city situations passengers would generally make you a lot more likely to get in an accident, but they could help you out on the highway when you're prone to fall asleep.

One plausible reason for the difference between passengers and phone conversants could be that physical conversation does not involve a packet transmission and reassembly delay. That (roughly) 0.25- to .075- second variable delay as the phone system encodes the voice into packets, bounces it all over the place, reassembles the packets into a data stream and back into analog sound probably commands a larger share of attention.

That's interesting. I think I drive much more conservatively when I have passengers in the car than when I'm on my own: less inclined to push a yellow light or to change lanes just to move ahead a little bit. And there's the advantage of having someone to look the other way at a difficult intersection and to keep you awake on a long trip.