Hands-free phone calls a 'significant distraction'

It leads to ‘attentional blindness’ and therefore forms a risk on the road

A research conducted at the UAE University in Al Ain by Amir Taha, a professor of psychology, and other psychologists, proves that the assumed safe form of communication while driving – a hands-free phone call – is not without risks.

“Conversing over a hands-free mobile phone is a cause of significant distraction and is much more distracting than conversing with a fellow passenger,” says Amir Taha, professor of psychology at the UAE University in Al Ain.

“Our laboratory research has shown that the cause of distraction is the process of deciphering the degraded sound conveyed over the mobile phone, a process that consumes significantly more attentional resources than deciphering natural sounds received in a face-to-face conversation and results in what can be called ‘attentional blindness’,” he writes in the December volume 2012 of The UAE Psychologist, an online psychology magazine of the UAE University.

Attentional blindness is a term that he explains as when a driver registers signals by sight, but does not organise and interpret those signals in order to make them meaningful because there of a lack of attentional resources.

“Many concomitant tasks can do the same: intense conversation can do it. So can writing, reading or sending a text message, checking or tuning the radio or CD player in the car while driving, etc.,” he says.

Any task that competes for attentional resources while a person is driving reduces the attention required for a safe drive, claim the researchers.

Ahmad Bahrozyan, CEO Licensing at the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) Dubai, acknowledges the risks of hands-free calling while driving, but says that banning the practice would be a step too far.

“At the end of the day, people need to be in touch and need to be accessible for others. It is very difficult to ban such a practice from cars,” he says.

In order to obtain a driving licence in the emirate of Dubai, each student is required to attend 8 classroom lectures, in which the topic of safety on the road is discussed, Bahrozyan explains.

“These classes focus attention on things beyond the driving skills, such as driving attitude, driving behaviour, etc. These are the common causes of accidents on the road.

“People are sometimes over-confident when it comes to driving. They might think that they can deal with a phone conversation while paying attention to the road. But this only needs to go wrong one time,” he says.

Through the classes, RTA is hoping to make the public aware of the risks that are involved with certain driving habits, one of which hands-free calling in the car.

“Hands-free calling while driving is harmful as it has possible consequences. But cell phone has benefits as well as negatives. Attempting to bar the use of mobile phone while driving is neither realistic nor practical. It simply cannot be enforced. People should be made aware of the possible consequences and advised to use their wisdom,” concludes Taha.

(Home page image courtesy Shutterstock)

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