Couples arguing when driving, findings from local and remote conversations

Amanda Stephens, Terry C Lansdown

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Research


It is well established in the literature that inappropriate use of in-vehicle information systems, aftermarket nomadic devices or cellular telephones can result in reductions to driving performance. Further, convincing data exist that driver inattention is a contributory factor in nearly four-fifths of traffic incidents. However, less is known about the potential distractions for the driver from social factors. This paper reports findings from a study seeking to explore the socio-technical potential for driver distraction. Twenty couples who were romantically involved participated in the experiment. The study was conducted using a driving simulator and the participants were required to engage in emotionally difficult conversations. One partner was driving while the other was either i) talking while sat next to the driver, or ii) conversing with the driver from a remote location using a telephone. The driver used a handsfree telephone during the remote conversations. A revealed differences protocol was employed to identify contentious conversation topics. This required identification and subsequent discussion of sources of on-going disagreement in their relationships. Results indicate driver performance was adversely effected for both longitudinal and lateral vehicle control. Further, the revealed differences tasks were subjectively viewed as emotionally more difficult relative to a control. Performance was worst with the partner present during the contentious conversations. It seems during difficult conversations, drivers may be better able to regulate task demands with their partner not in the vehicle. Findings from this study suggest that difficult discussions with a romantic partner have a measureable detrimental effect on the ability to drive safely. The data encourages further work to be undertaken to gain an understanding of the potential for socio-technical emotional distractions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Human Aspects of Road and Rail Transportation
EditorsNeville Stanton
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781439871249
ISBN (Print)9781439871232
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Argue
  • Couples
  • Driving
  • Phone
  • Revealed differences

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