Texting and Driving Dangers: New Study Confirms
We all instinctively knew this, of course, but a new, very sophisticated study conducted by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) confirms that a number of activities, including texting, dialing, texting or reaching for a cellphone while driving actually does raise the risk of a crash or near-miss, especially when it comes to younger drivers. Surprisingly, this particular study uncovered a surprise, in that it showed that just talking on the phone was not particularly dangerous.
For this study, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers at VTTI used a variety of gadgets to measure speed and acceleration, including video cameras, lane trackers, and GPS. They installed the gadgets in the cars of 42 drivers who were either 16 or17 years old — in other words, brand new drivers — as well as 109 adult drivers with an average of 20 years driving experience.
Among the younger drivers in the study, the risk of a crash or near-miss actually increased by a factor of more than seven whenever they were reaching for or dialing a cellphone and by a factor of four whenever they were sending or receiving a text message. They also measured an increased risk when they were reaching for other things, or when they were looking at something on the roadside, or when they were eating.
When it came to the older subjects, the only activity that seemed to result in increased crash risk was dialing a cellphone. However, that study was conducted previously, before texting became more common. Therefore, researchers don’t know if it is as dangerous for adults as for teens.
Needless to say, a number of other researchers on this topic suggest taking the results and the methods with a grain of salt. Some suggest that the study’s methods and the tools that were employed may have tended to underestimate the actual risks, since video cameras can see where eyes wander to, but are not able to factor in cognitive distraction. For example, as one researcher suggested, you may not swerve the car so much while you’re talking on the phone, but you may go through a stop sign or a red light. This study also didn’t differentiate between handheld and hands-free devices.
Earlier studies using simulators, test-tracks and phone records suggest that drivers in the 15-20 age group makes up only 6 percent of drivers but 10 percent of all traffic deaths and 14 percent of injury crashes. Because of this, at least 12 states ban hand-held cellphone use and 37 states ban all cellphone use by new drivers while driving, while 41 states ban text messaging while driving.
Every year, distracted drivers kill or injure thousands of drivers in Texas and elsewhere. Those are the statistics that matter most in the end, and the carnage is significant.