Car Talk, University of Utah Launch Driver Distraction Web Site

NPR’s Car Talk guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, may be a couple of motor mouths, but they always put a lid on using cell phones behind the wheel. The perennial jokesters recently teamed with the University of Utah to launch the Driver Distraction Center at their Web site, http://cartalk.com/distraction.

The center offers information and resources dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence of technology.

Though Tom and Ray have been speaking out about distracted driving for years, National Safety Council research indicates that cell phone use and texting while driving cause at least 28 percent of all traffic accidents – around 1.6 million accidents each year.

This statistic moved the brothers to redouble their efforts and partner with the University of Utah Applied Cognition Laboratory to produce the online Driver Distraction Center. The site’s centerpiece is a blog by noted University of Utah cognitive researcher David Strayer, a psychology professor whose expertise has also been tapped by The Oprah Winfrey Show and findings cited by the New York Times and PBS’s NewsHour.

Other features include Tom and Ray’s tips for responsible driving, a driving simulator, a quiz and informational resources such as the links to reports, a listing of driving laws by state, facts on pending legislation and personal testimonies.

“When you're trying to merge onto the highway between a moving tractor trailer and a FedEx truck, your brain is performing a complex mathematical calculation,” said Tom. “I think most people know that they can't do that and have an intelligent conversation at the same time. And we have proof of this, because every one of us has had a near miss with a jerk holding a cell phone up to his ear.”

“And sometimes, that jerk is US!” said Ray. “The evidence is becoming clearer and clearer, and that's what this site is all about.”

Inattention Blindness

David Strayer is known for his pioneering research on the dangers of driving while distracted. A decade ago, Strayer, University of Utah psychologist Frank Drews and their colleagues demonstrated that talking on a hands-free cellular phone while driving was just as distracting as using a hand-held cell phone due to a phenomenon known as “inattention blindness.”

In subsequent studies, they demonstrated that when young adult motorists talk on cell phones, their reaction times are as slow as elderly motorists; when motorists talk on cell phones, they are as impaired as people just above the blood-alcohol limit for drunken driving; and that cell phone users impede traffic while driving and talking. In a more recent study, they found that text messaging while driving sharply increases the risk of a collision.

Allstate Insurance Company, the sponsor of Car Talk’s Driver Distraction Center, has taken a stance against distracted driving with its own Web site and other communication tools encouraging drivers to “X the TXT.”

“Distracted driving – specifically, texting while driving – is a very serious issue, and Allstate is committed to doing what we can to raise awareness of the dangers of this behavior on the roads,” said Lisa Cochrane, vice president of marketing at Allstate. “It’s an issue all drivers need to address, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to work with NPR’s Car Talk to continue to raise awareness and make our roads safer.”

Visit the Driver Distraction Center at http://cartalk.com/distraction.

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