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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
Breaking News...

22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

July 9, 2002
Breaking News...
Report airs Thursday, July 11
ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings will air a segment about this research into the distractions caused by cell phone use in cars. The story is scheduled to air on the national news on Thursday evening, July 11.

The study is considered the first scientific look at cell phone use, and will more than likely inform the national debate on the topic. The research received funding from the URI Transportation Center as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's University Transportation Centers Program.

A reporter and cameraman from NewsProNet will be on campus on Wednesday, 7/10, to cover the same story. NewsProNet packages national news stories and provides them to 50+ local TV affiliates around the country. They plan to feed the story to their affiliates during the week of July 29.

This is the second major national story about the University on ABC WorldNews Tonight with Peter Jennings in less than three months. In April, President Robert Carothers was interviewed on issues regarding alcohol abuse by students on college campuses.

Read more on the transportation research story below.

Cell phone use in cars causes tunnel vision
Scientists recommend "cell-free zones"

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 10, 2002 -- Preliminary results of a University of Rhode Island analysis of the eye-movements of automobile drivers using cell phones found that the drivers have a reduced field of view – tunnel vision. Further studies may have significant implications on the use of cell phones in automobiles.

URI industrial engineering Professor Manbir Sodhi (shown outside of car) and psychology Professor Jerry Cohen used a head-mounted, eye-tracking device on volunteer drivers (shown in photo) and concluded that the alertness of the drivers decreased considerably when they were conducting cognitive tasks, such as remembering a list of items, calculating in one’s head, or using a cell phone.

Their research also found that the tunnel vision caused by cell phone use continues well after the conversation ends, perhaps because drivers are still thinking about the conversation.

"The debate surrounding cell phone use in cars has been directed toward concerns over holding the phone," said Sodhi. "Holding the phone isn’t the main issue. Thinking is."

Sodhi and Cohen recognize the usefulness and popularity of cell phones and do not advocate banning their use in automobiles. Instead, they say discussion should focus on how to make cell phone use easy and safe for everyone inside and outside of the car.

"I believe higher levels of safety can be achieved by establishing cell-free zones," Sodhi said. He suggests that cell phone use be prohibited on roadways that require high levels of alertness, for instance in congested traffic, in poor weather, and on winding roads. On flat, dry, open pavement during light traffic conditions, he believes cell phone use should be permitted.

The research also found that even when drivers do tasks that require brief glances away from the roadway, like adjusting the radio, wide-ranging eye-movement suggests a higher level of alertness than when speaking on a cell phone. The study found that most drivers seldom glance away from the road for more than about 1.6 seconds when doing such tasks. This result corresponds with the results of previous research.

"People have a safety limit of how long their eyes can go off the road," Sodhi said. "If a job takes the eyes more than about one-and-a-half seconds, it could well be putting people in a hazardous situation."

Sodhi and Cohen plan additional eye-tracking studies this summer, focusing exclusively on cell phone use and other cognitive tasks. They also intend to include volunteers from a wider range of ages, as well as some with disabilities, to further expand their research.

The research was funded in part by the URI Transportation Center, a federally funded center established in 1999 for multidisciplinary education, research, technology transfer and outreach for surface transportation systems and advanced transportation infrastructure. The URI Transportation Center is one of 33 centers receiving support from the US Department of Transportation through the University Transportation Centers Program.

For Information: Todd McLeish 401-874-7892

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