Assignment Instructions: Please read the article below. Write a 2 to 3 page typed and double spaced summary of the article. Please discuss the author’s viewpoints, what studies were done, and be sure to discuss your opinion of the article.
Psychologists' research shows how cell phones, iPods and other technologies make us more accident prone and is laying the foundation to make using these gadgets less dangerous.
By Amy Novotney
February 2009, Vol 40, No. 2
On a Tuesday evening two years ago, avid cyclists Christy Kirkwood and Debbie Brown were finishing a 13-mile bike ride in Orange County, Calif., when a driver talking on a cell phone swerved into their bike path, knocking Kirkwood off her bike and throwing her 227 feet. The motorist—who had been travelling at 55 mph—continued a short distance before stopping to see what had happened, says University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, PhD, who served as a consultant on the case.
"The driver thought he'd hit a deer," Strayer recalls.
Kirkwood died from her injuries. Unfortunately, such tragedies have become all too common. In fact, two epidemiological studies—one published in 1997 in The New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 336, No. 7), and another published online in 2005 in the British medical journal BMJ—report that talking on the cell phone while driving increases your risk of being in an accident fourfold—an alarming statistic given that 84 percent of Americans own cell phones, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
In addition, a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that more than half of U.S. drivers admit to using a cell phone while driving, at least occasionally. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society estimates that 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States result each year from driver cell phone use.
Of course, Americans are increasingly using personal digital assistants and other devices that undermine their attention, as well. Last fall, 25 people died and 113 were injured when a commuter train collided head-on with a freight train outside Los Angeles. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that text messaging may have played a role: Cell phone records showed the train's engineer had sent a text message 22 seconds before the crash. Last year, Americans sent more than 600 billion text messages—10 times the number they sent three years ago. And 41 percent of us have logged onto the Internet outside our homes or offices, either with a wireless laptop connection or a handheld device, finds a 2007 Pew Internet Project survey.
The problem doesn't just rest with drivers: A 2007 study in Accident Analysis and Prevention (Vol. 39, No. 1) by University of South Wales psychologist Julie Hatfield, PhD, found that female pedestrians talking on mobile phones were less likely to look for traffic before stepping into the street and crossed the road more slowly, increasing their risk of colliding with a vehicle.
"As technology and interruption become more and more prevalent, the negative consequences of not paying attention become more pronounced," says Strayer.
With their knowledge of human behavior and cognition, Strayer and other psychologists are exploring the causes of distraction and working to raise awareness of its danger. At the same time, scientists are designing technology that isn't as mentally demanding.
Most people have no problem watching television as they jog on a treadmill or chewing gum while they walk. These are largely effortless tasks that require little sustained attention or thinking. And that may be why many believe they can drive and do any number of secondary tasks as well—from eating or applying makeup to scanning for a song on their MP3 players or talking on cell phones.
But cognitive scientists' research shows the brain has limited bandwidth. Research by psychologists