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Use the Phone While Driving, Get Dumped

Study says using a cell phone while driving causes communication breakdowns that could cause misunderstandings and hurt relationships.

We've all heard the warnings about using cell phones behind the wheel; several recent studies have shown that even hands-free mobiles are more distracting to motorists than driving drunk. Now a paper in Family Science Review points to another chilling threat posed by phoning and driving: Do it and you might get dumped.

According to University of Minnesota professor Paul Rosenblatt's paper, communication with family members suffers for the same reasons car calling is hazardous to driving — it slows motorists' reaction times and reduces their attention spans. "A delay in the conversation could be a problem if the person on the other end of the conversation interprets the delayed reaction as an indicator of ambivalence, of not having a ready answer or of hiding something," Rosenblatt said in a press release announcing his findings. "This all leads to upsetting the partner." (It also leads to a helpful hint: If you are hiding something from your significant other, blame it on your cell phone coverage.)

Rosenblatt highlights several potential relationship roadblocks. The spouse or partner who isn't driving might cut conversations short out of concern for the driver's safety, which the driver might interpret badly, while poor reception or road noise can contribute to vital missed dialogue.

The lack of visual cues — such as facial expressions, changes in posture and hand gestures — also leads to misunderstandings as more conversations take place via cell phones. It can even make the difference, Rosenblatt said, "for couples in which things have been so difficult that they both are considering ending the relationship. Problems arising from a difficult phone conversation may push their relationship to the tipping point."

Hmm ... maybe, just maybe, this begins to explain what happened to Tiger Woods that night.

The Cocktail Napkin appears at the back page of each issue of Miller-McCune magazine, highlighting current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.