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Analyzing the effects of conversations on drivers

All Nevada drivers are banned from using hand-held cellphones and texting. While most people are aware that these activities are distracting and can increase the risk for car and pedestrian accidents, some may not know the full details. This is where a meta-analysis published in Human Factors can come in.

It turns out that any conversation whether on the phone or with another occupant can be distracting to those operating a vehicle. Though more engaging conversations would distract drivers to a greater degree, the presence of a conversation itself would degrade the driver's awareness of the environment.

Cellphone use is especially distracting as drivers check their mirrors less often, fail to keep a safe distance from other cars, sometimes drift out of their lane and fail to slow down when a situation might call for it. Their ability to identify hazards on the road and to react to them is also slower. Even dialing a cellphone can take a driver's eyes off the road although speed dialing and vocal commands can prevent this.

There are, of course, other ways that drivers can become distracted: They could be adjusting their radio, eating or simply daydreaming. Hands-free phones can decrease the level of distraction, but they won't eliminate it entirely.

When car accidents are attributed to cellphone use, the victims who are not at fault may be able to file an injury claim with the guilty party's auto insurance company. The insurance company might be aggressive in denying a settlement, so a victim may wish to hire a lawyer for this proceeding. A lawyer may be able to assess the claim and, with the help of investigators, work to prove that the client was innocent and the defendant negligent. The lawyer may handle all negotiations or take the case straight to court.

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