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Mobile-using drivers 'age 50 years'

Terrifying effect of yakking on the move

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University of Utah researchers claim that a 20-year-old blabbing on a mobile phone while driving has the reaction times of a 70-year-old, AP reports. And it doesn't matter if you're chatting hands-free, because "any activity requiring a driver to actively be part of a conversation likely will impair driving abilities," said principal study author professor David Strayer.

Guinea pigs were subjected to four 10-mile freeway trips lasting about 10 minutes each in a simulator. They talked with a researcher via a handsfree mobe for half of the trip and maintained a concentrated silence for the other half. The results showed that those chewing the fat were "18 per cent slower in braking, had a 12 per cent greater following distance and took 17 per cent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked".

The team concludes that "when 18-to-25-year-olds were placed in a driving simulator and talked on a cellular phone, they reacted to brake lights from a car in front of them as slowly as 65- to 74-year-olds who were not using a cell phone." Which means that a 70-year-old yakking away on his cellphone has the reaction times of a 120-year-old, or have we misunderstood this rather poor analogy?

In fact, old timers behind the wheel interfacing with their telephone do not pose a greater risk to road users because "more experience and a tendency to take fewer risks helped negate any additional danger," as Strayer puts it. Yes indeed, we have ourselves been stuck behind octogenarian motorists doing 10mph in the fast lane and can confirm that their safety consciousness is a shining example to other road users. ®

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