Driving while talking on your cell cuts by half the brain’s ability to recognize and respond to traffic conditions, according to a study. Says a researcher: “Twentysomethings on a cellphone have the same reaction time as 70-year-olds.”

USA Today via Yahoo News:

Talking on a cellphone while driving sharply reduces brain activity needed to keep track of road conditions and leads drivers to gaze at things without their brains actually seeing them, according to a psychologist at the University of Utah.

Hands-free phones pose the same safety hazards as handheld phones, says psychologist David Strayer, who presented his findings Thursday at the American Psychological Association meeting in New Orleans. His findings were based on lab studies using driving machines with about 500 adults. Among the key findings:

  • Conversations with passengers reduce a driver’s attention, but they aren’t as unsafe as talking on a phone. “Passengers tend to help the driver if they see something hazardous. They might point it out or at least stop talking,” Strayer says.
  • Studies show that talking on a cellphone cuts a driver’s brain activity in half in a key area of the brain needed for noticing traffic conditions.
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