Is talking on mobile while driving safe?

London: In a complete reversal of what motorists have been advised, a new study suggests that those who talk on phone or switch on the radio stations while behind the steering wheel may actually be driving safely.

Researchers from Kansas University found that drivers who engage in a "secondary task" pay more attention to the road because some types of distraction can help bored drivers stay focused.

Past studies have showed that drivers who talk on the phone may be more prone to meeting with an accident, but the new study found that the monotony of driving may itself be an accident risk.

According to the researchers, drivers who lose focus on the road because of boredom may actually increase their attention by engaging in a secondary task, particularly during the last leg of their journey, the Daily Mail reported.

For their study, the researchers led by Paul Atchley and Mark Chan, asked 45 participants to drive for 30 minutes in a driving simulator.

Their attentiveness and short-term memory were tested by introducing various obstacles, such as a car suddenly pulling in front of them or a popular fast food restaurant billboard flashing by.

Some drivers were given a secondary task throughout the drive, some performed an additional task at the end of the trip, and some had no concurrent task.

Drivers` level of attention was gauged by their ability to stay in their lane, react in time to avoid an intruder car, avoid radical steering manoeuvres to maintain a steady course and accurately remember the signs that they passed.

It was found that drivers who had to perform a concurrent task in the latter portion of the trip were more likely to stay in their lane and were less likely to make mistakes, compared with drivers who had either a continuous or no additional task.

These findings showed that as driving becomes monotonous and drivers`minds drift from the road, strategically introducing an additional task, such as a talking on the phone or listening to the radio, might improve driver attention and stability, the researchers said.

However, the authors warned that "although these results suggest improvements in driving performance, there is still a degree of risk involved" when drivers perform a secondary task.

The study was published in the science journal Human Factors.