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The Most Dangerous Thing You’re Doing on the Road

Think speakerphone makes you a safe driver? Not necessarily. According to new research, your brain gets tripped up when you attempt a left-hand turn while talking on a hands-free phone.

Using a long end-of-day commute to catch up with your mom or girlfriend is a good way to multitask, but a bad call in terms of staying safe on the road—even if you’ve got her on speaker. According to new research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, your brain gets tripped up when you attempt to make a left-hand turn while wrapped up in a conversation.

The study notes that most traffic accidents take place when drivers are attempting left-hand turns at busy intersections. Think about it: You're looking out for oncoming traffic, watching for pedestrians, checking traffic lights, and timing your turn around all of that. Throw in the distraction of a phone call, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Why? Left-hand turns demand more brain activation than driving on a straight road or performing other maneuvers from behind the wheel.

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During the study, subjects were hooked up to a driving simulator equipped with a steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator while their brain activity was monitored via MRI. (This is the first distracted driving study to use this setup. Previous experiments involved joysticks, trackballs, or subjects reacting to scenarios that played out on a screen in front of them.) Drivers were tasked with making left-hand turns in the presence of oncoming traffic, which required them to decide when it was OK to turn safely. During some turns, drivers were distracted by a series of true-false questions. While providing answers, MRIs showed that blood moved from the part of the brain that controls vision to the area responsible for decision-making. Brain centers that control conversation and attention also lit up.

The bottom line: While speakerphone lets you keep you hands on the wheel, your brain might be the bigger concern. Save your convos for when you're out of the car. We're sure the lady on the other end of the line prefers you alive.

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