Examining the impact of cell phone conversations on driving using meta-analytic techniques

Hum Factors. 2006 Spring;48(1):196-205. doi: 10.1518/001872006776412135.


Objective: The performance costs associated with cell phone use while driving were assessed meta-analytically using standardized measures of effect size along five dimensions.

Background: There have been many studies on the impact of cell phone use on driving, showing some mixed findings.

Methods: Twenty-three studies (contributing 47 analysis entries) met the appropriate conditions for the meta-analysis. The statistical results from each of these studies were converted into effect sizes and combined in the meta-analysis.

Results: Overall, there were clear costs to driving performance when drivers were engaged in cell phone conversations. However, subsequent analyses indicated that these costs were borne primarily by reaction time tasks, with far smaller costs associated with tracking (lane-keeping) performance. Hands-free and handheld phones revealed similar patterns of results for both measures of performance. Conversation tasks tended to show greater costs than did information-processing tasks (e.g., word games). There was a similar pattern of results for passenger and remote (cell phone) conversations. Finally, there were some small differences between simulator and field studies, though both exhibited costs in performance for cell phone use.

Conclusion: We suggest that (a) there are significant costs to driver reactions to external hazards or events associated with cell phone use, (b) hands-free cell phones do not eliminate or substantially reduce these costs, and (c) different research methodologies or performance measures may underestimate these costs.

Application: Potential applications of this research include the assessment of performance costs attributable to different types of cell phones, cell phone conversations, experimental measures, or methodologies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Automobile Driving*
  • Cell Phone*
  • Humans
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • United States