Car Talk

Hang up while driving
This is an archived article that was published on in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you're a fan of "Car Talk" on National Public Radio, you know all about Tom and Ray and bad puns and zany banter and Boston "Our Fair City" Mass. You also may have learned what might be causing that scraping noise that sounds like raccoons mating inside the right front wheel well of your 1999 Subaru Outback.

What you may not know, however, is that Tom and Ray have invited Utah psychology professor David Strayer to ride shotgun with them as they try to convince Americans not to talk on their cell phones while driving.

Why Because it's as dangerous as driving drunk.

The Magliozzi brothers -- that would be Tom and Ray -- have been campaigning against cell phone use behind the wheel for more than a decade. Strayer is a natural ally, because his research with Frank Drews and others at the U. has shown how dangerous it is to drive while yacking on a cell phone.

They have been leaders in this field since they got the bright idea of putting students in driving simulators and testing them.

Now, Tom and Ray have given Strayer a blog on their Web site,

Talking on a phone while driving makes you about four times more likely to have an accident. Texting is twice as bad, multiplying your chances of an accident eight times.

The reason is pretty simple. When you are engaged in a conversation, that's what your brain is concentrating on. It's not concentrating on the road. That's also why a hands-free phone doesn't help much. It's not your hands being otherwise engaged that's the problem. It's that your head isn't in the game, the game being driving the car.

Strayer, Drews and their colleagues at the U. have conducted experiments to demonstrate this.

So why haven't Utah legislators outlawed cell phoning behind the wheel Because, like many of us, they use the phone when they are behind the wheel and they tell themselves they're not impairing their driving.

Actually, to their credit, Utah's lawmakers have outlawed texting behind the wheel. But they are world-class confabulators (consult your Psychology 101 textbooks, students) when it comes to inventing reasons why it's a terrible thing to drive drunk but it should be a matter of personal choice whether to drive while you're on the phone, even though the risks from the two forms of impaired driving are roughly comparable.

If you don't believe us, check out Strayer's blog.

And remember to change that oil every 5,000 miles.