Attention on The Road: Is Talking on the Phone Always Dangerous While Driving?


Ok, so we can all agree that we know at least one person who texts and drives or just loves talking on the phone with people while driving. I do not know about you, but I get really nervous when I am the passenger, especially when I see the driver texting and watching videos on their cellphone. If being on your cellphone is distracting, then obviously it should be turned off while you are driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distractions are the leading cause of most fatal car accidents (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015). This is pretty scary, but I know that some people such as business owners cannot simply turn off their phone while driving because they are regularly called. Some may argue that people can talk on the phone while driving without any issues but texting, on the other hand, is too distracting. So, is talking on the phone less dangerous than texting on the phone? How does this affect our attention while driving?

There was a recent study done by Thomas A. Dingus and his colleagues that expands the research on how engagements in primarily cognitive secondary tasks that do not interfere with visual-manual demands correlate with car accidents (Thomas et al.,2019). According to the research, “primarily cognitive secondary task generally refers to occasions during which the driver’s attention is directed away from the primary tasks associated with safely controlling a vehicle by a task that does not place apparent visual-manual demands on the driver” (Thomas et al.,2019). Thomas and his colleagues used previous data from 3,454 drivers that volunteered to be monitored using in-vehicle cameras as part of the Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP 2). Their results indicate that although secondary tasks that do not require the use of hands and/or eyes can affect performance, the effect on crash risk is less severe than the secondary task that did. Surprisingly, conversations using handsfree cellphones may have no associated increase in crash risk and in some cases, it could even be associated with a lower risk! Thomas and his colleagues explain that there are several reasons why a decrease in driver performance during cognitive engagement may not result in a corresponding increase in crash risk. One of the reasons might be that engagement in cognitive secondary task might keep us alert.

The findings are shocking to me, but let’s keep in mind the limitations. First, primary cognitive distraction is very difficult to measure using the data given by the SHRP 2 because it is challenging to know what is going on inside the driver’s mind without any invasive instrumentation. For instance, how could the researchers measure distractions such as mind-wandering with just by observing the videos? Also, this study did not include the degree to which off-road glances could affect a drivers’ risk in a crash when performing primarily cognitive secondary tasks.

So, should we be ok with driving and speaking on the phone? Well, I say be smart and play it safe. If you are going to drive for a relatively short distance, then you should turn off your phone to prevent any distractions or temptations of texting and driving. If you are a very busy person, such as do people that run a business, and are driving at long distance, remember to use hands-free and keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Remember that you are not just endangering yourself, but your loves ones that in the passenger’s seat when you are being distracted and driving.



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2015). 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Traffic Safety Facts Research Note (Report No. DOT HS 812 318). Washington, DC: NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Retrieved from <>.


Thomas A. Dingus, Justin M. Owens, Feng Guo, Youjia Fang, Miguel Perez, Julie McClafferty, Mindy Buchanan-King, Gregory M. Fitch. The prevalence of and crash risk associated with primarily cognitive secondary tasksSafety Science, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2019.01.005

6 thoughts on “Attention on The Road: Is Talking on the Phone Always Dangerous While Driving?

  1. abalgoyen

    I think the topic of your post is so important. I am guilty of being on my phone while driving and I think a lot of that comes with thinking that we are comfortable with our surroundings. When we drive the same roads everyday, we get comfortable and think that is more acceptable to pull out our phone and use it. I definitely agree that phones should be put away and never used in the car unless during emergencies. I think that another major issue besides texting is changing and choosing new music when you are driving. That is such a simple task but could take too much distraction and result in an accident. In the end, we are too comfortable.

    1. psychicdro34 Post author

      I am so happy that you found my topic interesting. I agree, sometimes we think that we are so used to driving that it becomes automatic, but keeping your eyes off the road or hands off the wheel could in result a deadly accident regardless of how experienced you are at driving. Some people have just become so addicted to their phones that they don’t even look where they are walking which could also be dangerous for pedestrians. I think that if you have a constant habit of using your phone and has put your life in danger on the road or is interfering with your professional life (distraction from work/school), then you definitely need to find the support that could help you decrease the use of your phone.

  2. staylor6

    I also found this article to be interesting. I wonder if this same effect of distraction could be associated with navigation applications such as Waze. I use Waze almost every time I drive since I am very bad with directions. I find myself looking at my phone frequently in order to check what directions are coming up next. I would be interested to see if that same distraction effect is present there when you have a navigation application open on your phone. Especially when you need to look at it in order to receive the directions. I am also aware that there is a voice function on this app and would be interested to see if that also has a negative effect on focus while driving.

    1. psychicdro34 Post author

      I am glad that you found my blog interesting. I am also bad with a sense of directions and I need to use my GPS for anything. It’s even useful to get to your destination on time in case of traffic. I would recommend using the voice function on the app or let a friend tell you where to go so your eyes are not being distracted. The research does apply because looking at the app interferes with visual-manual demands in driving.

  3. millale

    There is definitely a sense of self-control that people must have in order to stay off their phone while they drive. Its very hard, but many people are too blinded by that addiction to even notice a problem with what they are doing. Multitasking is something that can be learned the more you drive, but as your attention becomes less and less on the road, you could end up reacting too late to a situation that was not even in your control (like someone pulling in front of you or stopping too abruptly). I try very hard not to look at my phone or talk when I drive, but sometimes it is necessary. I found that having a magnetic phone stand attached to the air vent next to my wheel, so if I need to look at directions or answer a call, I at least won’t have the phone in my hand or on my lap- so my attention still relatively stays directly in front of me.

    1. psychicdro34 Post author

      I agree people are too blinded into realizing how addicted they really are toward using their cellphones and how that can affect them. In today’s society, it seems that we heavily rely on our cellphones for pretty much anything. We should practice on restraining ourselves to at least put the phone down while driving or walking. It is easier said than done, but making it a weekly challenge with some positive reinforcement form others could make a difference. It will help prevent you from getting into a car accident or hitting a pedestrian

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