I see many comments like “They should ban conversations with car passengers too!” in response to news about the US NTSB recommendation to ban all phone conversations for drivers.
As Rush Limbaugh once liked to say, I can respond to this with half my brain tied behind my back. That link describes a study published three years ago showing drivers are far more distracted talking on a cellular phone than by conversing with a passenger in an automobile.
The study, which used a sophisticated driving simulator, found that when drivers talk on a cell phone, they drift out of their lanes and missed exits more frequently than drivers conversing with a passenger.
“The passenger adds a second set of eyes, and helps the driver navigate and reminds them where to go,” says David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah and a co-author of the study.
Strayer says he often is asked about the distraction caused by conversations with passengers versus people on the other end of a cell phone, “because in both cases you have a conversation.”
But “when you take a look at the data, it turns out that a driver conversing with a passenger is not as impaired a driver talking on a cell phone,” he says. “You see bigger lane deviations for someone talking on a cell phone compared with a driver talking to a passenger. You also find when there is a passenger in the car, almost everyone takes the exit. But half the people talking on the cell phone fail to take the exit.”