In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Yagesh Bhambhani of the University of Alberta reveals why hands-free cell phone use makes driving dangerous.
Yagesh Bhambhani is a professor of occupational therapy at the University of Alberta. His study of hands-free cell phone use and driving safety was conducted with the help of graduate student Mayank Rehani. Bhambhani holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta.
Dr. Yagesh Bhambhani – Hands-Free Phones and Driving Errors
Technological advances have resulted in a large increase in the number of individuals who use hands-free telecommunication while driving. Research has indicated that individuals who talk on the telephone while driving, using either hands-free or handheld devices, commit traffic violations more frequently and are four times more likely to have an accident compared to those who don’t. Despite these alarming statistics, hands free-telecommunication is still permitted in many jurisdictions globally. The cognitive effects of this distracted driving behavior have not been explored by researchers.
In collaboration with my graduate student Mayank Rehani, I conducted a study which examined the effects of hands-free telecommunication using driving simulations that assessed the number of errors and changes to blood flow in the brain. Thirty males completed two sessions in a driving simulator: (1) six minutes of simulated driving in an urban environment without any telephone conversation, and (2) distracted driving on the same course, but with hands free telecommunication for the final two minutes.
During both trials, we measured the changes in oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin from the left prefrontal lobe using near infrared spectroscopy. Of the 26 participants who completed the study, there was a 75% increase in errors during distracted driving. The most frequent violations were centerline crossings and excessive speed—approximately half the total errors committed in each condition and trial. We measured significant changes to oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin in the brain during the distraction simulation. This implies greater neuronal activity due to increased concentration. However, we did not observe a relationship between the frequency of driving errors and changes in neuronal activity during distracted driving.