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November 14, 2007

New York Study Delivers Details of Distracted Drivers

As part of a study performed by Hunter College students, more than 3000 drivers were observed at specific New York corners. One in three drivers was observed smoking, eating, blabbing on their cell phone, and putting on makeup. What else is there to do in the car besides sing?

Ap_cellphone_while_driving The study, which was directed by Sociology Professor Peter S. Tuckel, revealed that more than one in five of the drivers were observed talking on their cellphones -- half of them on hand-held phones, which has (ironically) been illegal in New York State since 2001.

The college released the results of the study [download the pdf here ] this week. It involved about 50 students, who gathered observational data on five specific types of distractions: (1) using a cell phone, (2) drinking, (3) eating, (4) smoking, and (5) grooming.

The study revealed a great number of interesting findings. Most notably is that "women drivers are more likely to speak on a hand-held cell phone than their male counterparts... 15.1 percent of the females compared to 10 percent of men." Women were also found to be using hands-free devices more than men (13.5% vs. 10.6%).

Makeupwhiledriving "In addition to their work-related responsibilities, women play a disproportionately large role in managing household affairs and child-rearing which could account for greater cell phone usage," Professor Tuckel said in a phone interview with the New York Times, adding, "It is clear that the car has become an extension of the home and office." That's a fair assumption.

Also, according to their observations "the type of vehicle driven is also related to cell phone usage. Overrepresented among drivers using a hand-held cell phone or wireless device were drivers of sports cars or convertibles." Interesting.

As have other studies, this one revealed that drivers who use cellphones seemed significantly more likely to engage in one of the four other specific distractions than drivers who were not using cell phones. Motorists using a hands-free device were markedly more likely to engage in one of these distractions than their counterparts who use a hand-held device (22.3% while hands-free vs. 15.2% hand-held).

Ap_eating_driving"The most intriguing finding," Professor Tuckel said, "is that individuals who talk on a wireless device are the most likely to engage in grooming, eating, drinking and smoking. They think they're being safety-conscious, but in fact, individuals driving with a hands-free device are compounding the risk of driving with a cellphone." This theory is supported by others as well.

Case in point: Vice Chairman of the Public Safety Committee for Santa Fe, New Mexico, Michael Trujillo was a vehement supporter of the city's recent ban on the use of all but hands-free cellphones while driving. However, he has since changed his opinion on the safety of using hands-free devices. Leaving the hands free had the potential to increase, not decrease, driver distraction, he says. "If you have hands free, not only are you able to do something else, but you are able to do three different tasks at the same time."

About 1 in 20 of the drivers observed by the study were smoking. "That suggests to me that people are smoking in their cars because it's banned in other venues," Professor Tuckel said. "The car is a refuge, a nice comfortable place to light up, where it's not outlawed."

According to the New York Times, the results of the study should be considered with caution, due to the small sample size and the imprecision of observational research. However, a National Occupant Protection Use Survey, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year, concluded that 5 percent of drivers nationwide have one hand on the wheel and the other on a hand-held cellphone.

Let's keep it safe in our cars whenever we can!

By Brandy Schaffels
Contributing Editor

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