Arguing with your partner while driving? Best do it over the phone
MOTORISTS are in more danger from arguing with partners while they are in the car rather than on a hands-free mobile phone, new research has found.
Twenty couples volunteered for an experiment in which they indicated sources of disagreement within the relationship.
They then spent about an hour driving in a simulator where the partner was either sitting next to the driver or talking by phone, discussing sore points.
The driving simulator measured driver responses and effectiveness and showed a significant decrease in performance.
The study was conducted by Dr Terry Lansdown, of Heriot-Watt University, and Dr Amanda Stephens, of University College, Cork.
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Dr Lansdown, an applied psychology senior lecturer, said one reason the drivers performed better when on the phone could be because they could ignore the partner more easily.
He said: “We are now getting some objective data that show emotional distractions as real and dangerous.
“Driver lane keeping and speed control was statistically worse when engaged in a difficult conversation if compared to normal driving. I think the surprising thing is that conversations are better over the phone.”
Dr Lansdown said the research provides insight into potential ways to reduce emotional distractions. He added: “There are strategies you can adopt to avoid anger. If, for example, you are inclined to argue easily, you may recognise that and change topics or postpone a difficult conversation.”
The average age of the participants in the study, from Edinburgh, was 25 and they had been licensed drivers for an average of more than six years.
Both lane position and speed suffered “significantly”, and were worst when the partner was next to the driver.
But the research concluded that any contentious conversation while driving provoked a much higher level of anger in drivers, challenging their concentration and driving ability.
The paper, printed in the journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, suggests having a partner in the vehicle during an argument may make the driver more inclined to look at them and try to read their expressions – a sympathetic but distracting response.
Dr Lansdown said the research would next look at the distraction from teenagers in the car or over the phone interacting with their parents in the car.
Relationship experts said it was important for couples to recognise the danger of distractions while driving and find ways to avoid this.
Christine Northam, a counsellor working with the charity Relate, said: “When you’re in the car, you cannot have a constructive row because one of you is distracted by the driving. If one of you can put the brakes on and say: ‘Let’s discuss this when we’re not driving’, then that would be the best thing to do.
“When you’re calm, talk about how to stop rowing while driving. Think about the danger you’re in.”
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