Cell phone safety

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about a NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) study on the effects on roadway safety of cell phone use.

I attempted to obtain a link to an article I read that reported a conflicting finding. The article reported that a study of how cell phone usage by truck drivers affected the safe operation of their vehicles came to a surprising conclusion. Cell phone conversations added to the safe operation of the vehicles driven by the truck drivers. I emboldened the word conversations because other aspects of cell phone operation led to less safe driving. Try as I might, I could not find the article.

Now first let me give you the set up. About a dozen truck drivers agreed to have video cameras placed in their trucks that both recorded their actions within the truck and provided views for what was going on outside their trucks (how did they react to traffic).

First off, I am fairly certain that these truck drivers were always on their best behavior. There is nothing that is going to motivate squeaky clean behavior and performance better then realizing someone is constantly observing what you do. As a result, the observed behavior might not have been genuinely typical.

But the study indicated that cell phone conversations, as well as conversations on a CB (citizen's band) radio actually improved the performance of the studied truck drivers.

While I can not provide a link that reports on this study, I can believe the results of the study. I am a truck driver, and my experience seems to match the results.

But as I said, I am willing to bet the truck drivers were on their best behavior. I would imagine they did not use their cell phone in heavy urban traffic but only used it while traveling on less demanding rural stretches of roadway.

The study came to the conclusion that the performance of truck drivers that engaged in cell phone conversations or use of a CB radio's performance improved because it was less likely for them to exhibit drowsy related performance while engaged in a conversation.

My experience is that while on that lonely stretch of highway is when I face the highest risk of drowsiness. While my experience with a cell phone is limited, I have considerable experience with a CB radio. One way to fight the boredom that increases the risk of inattentiveness due to fatigue, is to get a conversation going with someone, anyone, on the CB.

Now this study also contained another conclusion which leads me to believe the results they obtained are valid. Despite the positive benefits to attentiveness they observed from conversations on a cell phone, they observed that driving performance was extremely decreased when these truck drivers attempted to dial or text on their phones. This observation seems to pass the common sense test for me. While engaged in dialing or texting these activities compete for where their eyes must be.

I am going to add a statement of opinion here that is not supported by any study they I know of being conducted. I would put forth that use of a CB radio, even in the most demanding urban, congested traffic conditions continues to increase the safety factor. The truck driver never has to take his eyes off the road and he at least sometimes gets advanced warning of challenging road conditions ahead of him.

I am going to add that observing the performance of truck drivers is not really a fair comparison, and that the sampling of truck drivers observed might not have been nothing but the best truck drivers available. The truck driver with a poor attitude would never have agreed to have his actions monitored that closely. The drivers who agreed to be monitored probably had enough confidence and experience that they felt they had nothing to fear from observation.

Perhaps studies based on the cream of the crop are not completely valid. I will note that even the performance of the best of the best declined while texting or even dialing on their cell phones.

My personal observations of even four wheelers while talking on the cell phone seems to at least somewhat match the study's observations for truck drivers. My own personal observations for four wheelers are that when they attempt to talk on their cell phones in heavy traffic is when they are most apt to become a safety hazard. Unfortunately, this seems to be when they are most apt to talk on their cell phones. They just got off work, they are on their way home, and they are checking to see if they need to stop for a loaf of bread en route.


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