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Is passenger conversation a major distraction similar to a cell phone conversation? Essay Example

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Is passenger conversation a major distraction similar to a cell phone conversation 7

Is passenger conversation a major distraction similar to a cell phone conversation?


The essay will analyze the psychological myth on whether passenger conversation is a major distraction similar to a cell phone conversation. Many studies done by various researchers have argued that talking to passengers can be as dangerous as using a cell phone. On other hand other psychological researchers dispute this myth hence most of them argues that there is a difference in distraction between driver passenger conversations and Cell phone conversations. This essay therefore will analyze the above statements from both sides using various experiments done by different researchers to reach at a congruent conclusion.


From the psychological point of view people talking on cell phone get distracted putting off the driver’s attention on the call rather than concentrating on driving. Talking on the cell phone usually distracts the driver from the road as well as his or her senses. In order to drive safely you ought to use all the senses including hearing (Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, & Beyerstein, 2010). When an individual is on a cell phone its quiet obvious that he or she cannot use the sense of hearing which can easily result in an accident. Many people who have been involved in an accident were found to be on their cell phones when the accident happened.

When a driver has a telephone conversation while driving it requires him or her to use a lot of visual processing power and bandwidth picturing hence in most cases he or she will find distracted during the conversation leading to an accident when compared to conversation with someone who is seated next to the driver (Donald, Rizzo & Caird, 2010). Several studies have disputed the mere fact that passenger conversation is a major distraction similar to a cell phone conversation hence various studies argue that there is a difference. The question which arises is here is whether there is a difference in distraction.

In order to come with congruent evidence as far as the statement is concerned the essay will analyze the above statement using a simulation research study carried by Donald, Rizzo and Caird (2010) on how driving simulators can be used to evaluate the impact of cellular communication on driving performance. It was clearly established that cell phone use significantly impairs driving performance. The results indicated that disruptive effects of cell phone conversations on driving tend to divert drivers attention from driving to the phone conversation (Donald, Rizzo & Caird, 2010).

According to a research study done by Drews, Pasupathi and Strayer Drews (2008) in which participants were required to drive on a multi-lane freeway and exit at a rest stop approximately eight miles down the road. It was found that the majority of drivers 88% who were conversing with a passenger successfully completed the task of navigating to the rest area whereas only 50% of the drivers talking on a cell phone successfully navigated to the rest area (Drews, Pasupathi & Strayer, 2008).

Analysis of the two studies indicates that there is a primary difference between the two modes of communication. First and foremost the passenger helped the driver in the navigations task by reminding them to exit at the rest stop. In addition references to traffic conditions were more likely with passenger conversations than with cell phone conversations. Cell phone drivers have the relative risk of causing an accident by four factor times more than those involved in a driver passenger conversation(Drews, Pasupathi & Strayer, 2008)..

Chatting passengers may in some situations help drivers by talking about surrounding traffic hence in a way helping the driver’s awareness as far as the road traffic is concerned. In real sense when talking to people in the car, they will seem to stop talking when they realize that its time for the driver to concentrate unlike cellular phone conversations as the person is not physically there it hard for him to know that its for the driver to concentrate hence he or she needs to stop the conversation (Arbor, 2009).
This clearly implies that any passenger talking to the driver will be more able to know when to stop talking. In the middle of the conversation if the driver drifts his or her attention, the passenger will be in a better position to shout to the driver which can bring the driver’s attention back to the road this cannot happen in situations where the driver is having a cellular phone conversation.

It hard for someone on the telephone to know when to pause and let the driver pay attention on driving which is quiet different incase it’s a passenger driver conversation. In addition, the passenger in the car is quiet aware of the surrounding conditions and he or she will know when to stop talking to the driver if the conditions require it, but a person on the phone will not because he or she is nor aware of the road conditions (Jabr, 2010).Cell phone and passenger conversation differs a great deal in their impact on driver’s performance in terms of operational, tactical and strategic levels of performance. Studies done (Jabr, 2010) reveals that there is a difference in distraction between driver passenger conversations and Cell phone conversation. On other hand other studies dispute and reveal that there is no difference in distraction between the two conversations hence stated myth is true. A statistical research study conducted by (Donald, Rizzo & Caird, 2010)
on 36 motorists for nearly four weeks with cars equipped with cameras to record vehicle movement and driver behavior .The results showed that conversation with passengers was dangerous just as phone conversations. There was no difference in terms of keeping in the correct lane as well as using proper steering behavior between people talking on a cell phone or those conversing with passengers. Drivers who have conversation with passengers exhibit similar levels of performance driving just as drivers who use cell phones. The research actually proves a clear statement that talking on a cell phone, from a driving performance is the same as holding a conversation with a passenger since both of them have equal magnitude effect as they fall into potentially distracting behaviors.

From the experimental results other distractive behaviors which drivers tends to engage in such as eating, drinking, grooming and having conversations are potentially just detrimental to driving performance like cellular phone conversations. The study revealed that performance of the participant in single task provides qualitatively different pattern than what is seen in the dual –task conditions (Donald, Rizzo & Caird, 2010). Talking on a cell phone impaired driving performance and that the distracting effects of cell phone conversations were not different from in passenger conversations. Compared to single task conditions, cell phone drivers brake reaction times were slower and they took longer to recover the speed that was lost following braking.

Talking on phone and a passenger are dangerous as both of them can be perceived as distractive behaviors. Talking to a passenger is a distraction which has been perceived as one of the most common forms of distracted driving. Though, both are distractive behaviors there is a great difference in distraction between the two. When a passenger is riding in a vehicle with a driver he or she is able to see everything happening on the road which in normal cases is seen in the tones of their voices. A passenger will shout up in situations of busy intersection, when an emergency vehicle is near among others. An individual having a cell phone conversation with a driver is not in a good position to change the tone in relation to the surrounding environment. In addition, she or he doesn’t have a clue if the driver is required to make a left turn at a busy intersection or not.

In a telephone conversation the cell buddy on phone will keep on talking and talking as he or she too expects the driver to answer back without considering the nature of the road or traffic. These situations in turn tend to have substantial psychological effects on the driver since he or she is forced to multi-task especially when navigating in complex intersections as well as when maneuvering around potential roadway hazards. During such complex situations it requires the driver to use a large amount of mental power to talk and drive when navigating in complex intersections and construction zones hence if the driver is not carefully he or she might easily cause an accident.


Arbor, A (2009). Road chat: Talking to passengers can be as dangerous as using a cell phone. Michigan: University of Michigan researchers, 34-78.

Drews, F.A., Pasupathi, M.& Strayer, D.(2008). Passenger and cell phone conversations in stimulated driving. Journal of experimental psychology: applied 14,392-400

Donald, L F., Rizzo, M & Caird, J (2010). Handbook of Driving Simulation for Engineering, Medicine, and Psychology. Chicago: CRC Press, 273-279

Jabr, F (2010). Cell bound: why is it hard to ignore public mobile phone conversations. Scientific American, September 22nd, 2010.

Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., Ruscio, J. & Beyerstein, B.L. (2010) Busting big myths in popular psychology. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 42-49