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Can a smartphone affect your driving if it is not in use?

A 2017 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin engaged 520 smartphone users in an experiment to find out how dependent they were on their mobile devices.

The study sought to determine if the mere presence of the cellphone could adversely affect a person’s cognitive powers, which is an interesting question in terms of driving a vehicle.

The problem of cognitive distraction

As a driver, you are confronted with visual, manual and cognitive distractions. Visual relates to taking your eyes off the road, manual refers to taking your hands off the steering wheel and cognitive means taking your mind off your driving altogether. It is this last kind of distraction on which the smartphone study sheds light.

The “other room” experiment

One group of participants in this study had to put their smartphones on the desk, within sight. A second group put their phones nearby but out of sight, as in a pocket or purse. Participants in the third group put their phones in another room. Then everyone performed cognitive tasks having to do with problem-solving, mental focus or memory work. Those whose cell phones were in another room scored higher than the other participants, whose phones were either close by or visible on a desktop.

Reduced cognitive capacity

The brain is only able to process a certain amount of information at any one time. While most of the participants in the university study did not think that the location of their smartphones had any effect on their performance in the cognitive tasks, the study revealed that the mere presence of the phone appears to use up the brain’s capacity for storing information. The higher the participant’s dependence on a smartphone, the worse the person performed on the tasks.

The issue of dependency

A personal injury attorney will tell you that driver distraction, including texting and calling, is often the cause of vehicle accidents, many of which result in severe injuries. The university study offers food for thought in connecting smartphone dependency to the reduction of cognitive powers. It is something to consider, even when the phone is not in use but merely lying on the seat next to you.

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