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Texting While Driving Twice as Dangerous Than Once Thought

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author photo by Joni Gray October 2011

Driving while texting, emailing, facebooking and tweeting are twice as dangerous as previously thought according to a new on-road study conducted by Texas A&M University's Texas Transportation Institute.

Christine Yager, an associate transportation researcher in TTI's Center for Transportation Safety, managed the study. On a closed 11-mile driving course with no hills, turns or pedestrians, 42 drivers between the ages of 16 and 54 participated in a real driving road test using full-keyboard phones - both touch screen and raised keys.

The participants were asked to stop when they saw a flashing yellow light. Those who drove the course without texting responded to the signal in two seconds. But when the driver was texting, the response time was extended by three to four seconds. Additionally, the texting driver was 11 times more likely to miss the flashing light altogether.

"Most research on texting and driving has been limited to driving simulators. This study involved participants driving an actual vehicle, "Yager says. "So one of the more important things we know now that we didn't know before is that response times are even slower than we previously thought."

A previous well-respected study done on a lab simulator showed drivers reacted in less than one second when they were not texting and to stimulus while texting in 1-2 seconds, Yager said. The 3-4 second lag time in the actual driving study is significant because in that period at highway speeds one can travel the length of a football field, she said.

The testing also determined whether reading or writing was more dangerous. The conclusion was that they were equal. "The act of reading and writing a text message are equally impairing and equally dangerous," Yager said.

The tests were conducted at that lower speed to insure the safety of the participants. "Even though we had participants drive at 30 miles an hour with very wide lanes on the test track, we still had many close calls," she said.

Frequent swerving in the lane and significant slowing down and speeding up were also noted in the test results.

The U.S. Transportation Department statistics indicate distracted driving contributes to as much as 20 percent of all fatal crashes, and that cell phones are the primary source of driver distractions. With an estimated 5 billion text messages going out per year in the U.S. and 20% of drivers admitting to texting while driving, the problem is not going away.

Texting while driving is banned in 34 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some states that have not yet banned the practice include Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, where the study was conducted.

When asked what they learned from the experiment, one participant in the study had a legitimate concern, "I learned that I speed more when I text; I don't feel like I'm in as much control. The part where I was texting just flew by and felt like a minute, so I'm probably not too aware of what's going on."

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Texting While Driving Twice as Dangerous Than Once Thought - Autotrader