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Passengers Make Drivers Safer

By raccars Published

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A study by scientists at the University of Illinois suggests that motorists could drive more safely if they are accompanied by a passenger. While a conversation partner at the end of a mobile phone is considered a dangerous distraction, passengers who share the driver's view of the road moderate their chat accordingly. This has a knock on effect upon the driver's behaviour, making them pay more attention to the road. Passengers with driving experience are the most helpful.

The investigation saw four test scenarios enacted in a simulator: driving alone, driving while in conversation with a passenger, driving while conversing on a hands free mobile phone and driving on conversation with a third party who has the driver's view of the road through a hands free videophone. The test also threw in a number of standard driving challenges, such as merging with other traffic and negotiating roads with other drivers' unpredictable behaviour.

Scientists recorded drivers' performance via their lateral manoeuvres, distance from other vehicles, collisions, speed and how successfully they did or didn't identify and take a specified exit. Drivers' speech patterns and eye movements were also tracked.

As has been shown by previous studies, driving alone produced by far the best results. While passengers can be helpful to drivers looking for exits and interpreting road signs, lone drivers experienced fewer collisions than those accompanied by a passenger. Predictably, drivers using a mobile phone produced the worst results in the simulator testing and were three times more likely to have a collision.

The drivers in conversation with a virtual passenger via videophone, however, were less likely to experience a collision than those talking to somebody without the same view of the road, such as on a mobile phone. It is believed that passengers who can see the road adjust their conversation according to the road conditions, so that they stop speaking while the driver was busy negotiating an unexpected event, for example. Conversation partners with a view of the road were also able to advise drivers of potentially tricky upcoming situations on the road. Videophone conversations in fact resulted in 40%-50% fewer collisions than conversations via hands free mobiles.

An American company is fighting the use of mobile phones at the wheel by developing a gun that can detect drivers sending text messages. The device is designed to discern a text message from the different frequencies used during phone calls or data transfer, and even to identify which passenger in a car is performing the action, so drivers will be unable to blame their passengers if caught.

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