People who use mobile phones while driving are spoiling it for the rest of us - by driving more carefully and slowing down traffic, according to US researchers.
A study from the University of Utah reports that drivers speaking on a hands-free mobile drive, on average, two mph slower than those not engaged in conversation - adding a possible 20 hours of driving to the annual commute.
The study comes from David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, and deserves slightly more examination before conclusions are leapt to. The good professor got students to sit in a simulator and drive the same journey twice, once while on the phone. When engaged in conversation drivers apparently drove less aggressively, changing lanes around 20 per cent less often, and it is their failure to take advantage of the faster-moving lane that caused their slow progress.
Some might say that fewer lane changes lead to safer driving, but apparently the cost of accidents is nothing compared to the price of driving two mph slower, as described by fellow researcher Peter Martin:
"While the costs associated with accidents seem high, there are so very few of them, comparatively, they actually are dwarfed by the user costs associated with delay."
Just to remind forgetful readers, this report comes from the same David Strayer who told us in 2003 that cell phone users were driving "blind", and in 2005 that they drive like 70-year-olds, while in 2006 the driver on the phone was as bad as a drunkard; and now he's causing us all to be late for work.
Talking on the phone while driving is probably dangerous, but Dr. Strayer's work is starting to look like a bit like a personal crusade against behind-the-wheel-chattering. We expect to hear, next year, that mobile phone users are worse than terrorists, or at least habitual drug users. ®