The most dangerous thing you can do with a cellphone is probably something you see other drivers do every day. It may even be something you’ve done occasionally yourself.
A new study funded by the Canadian government shows that turning left (right if you’re driving in countries where they drive on the left side of the road) while talking on the phone is more dangerous than you might have imagined. You aren’t just distracted, your brain literally shuts down crucial parts of the brain needed to see and pay attention.
This wasn’t an easy study to carry out. Researchers at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital spent more than a year figuring out how to integrate MRI machines to driving simulators, so they could see what the brain did in various driving situations. They used healthy, young volunteers with at least a few years of driving experience.
Making a left-hand turn, especially in traffic, requires more of your attention. But making one while trying to chat actually caused part of the brain to shut down. Blood moved from the part of the brain that handles vision, shutting down its function by 50%. It didn’t matter if the drivers were going hands-free – their brains were still engaged.
So, if you’ve ever asked yourself if other drivers are using their brains, it’s quite possible they weren’t.