Study Highlights Dangers Of Texting Behind The Wheel

SPECIAL REPORT-Texting while driving is extremely dangerous. While this should seem obvious, many motorists are apparently still engaging in its practice and according to one study, dramatically increasing their risks of an accident.


Texting is the terminology given to the practice of typing short messages on a cell phone keypad, instead of actually carrying on a verbal conversation. While texting can be beneficial to a cell phone user in the appropriate environment, behind the wheel is obviously not one of them.


As the U.S. Congress begins legislation to place a federal ban on ‘texting while driving,’ studies have been conducted that back up the legislative push to outlaw it.  There are already 16 states that ban all texting behind the wheel and an additional 9 states that ban texting by novice drivers. North Carolina recently joined the ranks of those issuing an all-out ban of texting while driving.


The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) recently conducted several large-scale, naturalistic driving studies, observing drivers accumulatively for 6 million miles. Their findings reveal a substantially large leap in risk factors involved in texting and the probability of crashing as a result.


“Given recent catastrophic crash events and disturbing trends, there is an alarming amount of misinformation and confusion regarding cell phone and texting use while behind the wheel of a vehicle. The findings from our research at VTTI can help begin to clear up these misconceptions as it is based upon real-world driving data. We conducted transportation safety research in an effort to equip the public with information that can save lives,” said Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.


VTTI researchers break down the findings into three categories for two different types of motorists. They evaluated drivers of light passenger vehicles and those professional drivers behind the wheel of heavy commercial trucks. Researchers looked at the tasks of dialing a cell phone, talking or listening to a cell phone and reaching for such an object as if to place a call or answering one.  A separate category examined texting while driving separately from operating a cell phone in its most common mode of usage.


The study compared motorists performing such tasks to their non-distracted counterparts. Those dialing a cell phone were 2.8 times as high as those paying close attention to the road. Simply talking or listen revealed that motorists were 1.3 times as high and reaching for an object like a cell phone was 1.4 times as high.


Commercial drivers operating larger vehicles with greater stopping distances and the inability to maneuver as quickly showed that they were 5.9 times as high as non-distracted drivers. Talking or listening was 1.0 times as high and reaching was 6.7 times as high.


The greatest danger was texting for all drivers. Texting raised the risks of crashing or having a near crash event to 23.2 times as high.


As a result of the research studies conclusive findings, VTTI recommends that:


-Texting should be banned in all moving motor vehicles. Researchers believe that a true epidemic of related crashes could occur as a result of more frequent text message senders—mostly teens—reach driving age in large numbers.


-Any tasks that distract from driving an automobile should be avoided.


-The use of true hands-free features on cell phones, such as voice activated dialing, be used more frequently so drivers do not have to take their eyes off the road any more than necessary.


-All cell phone use should be banned for newly licensed teen drivers. VTTI research revealed that teens had a tendency to engage in more frequent cell phone use. The Institute’s studies have shown that teens are four times more likely to be involved in a related crash or near crash event than an experienced adult driver.


While VTTI researchers made these recommendations, they also noted that their studies found that normal cell phone usage was not as dangerous as some studies indicate. Some recent comparisons to using a cell phone while driving and operating a vehicle while intoxicated were, by their research findings, overly exaggerated.


Texting drivers, however, were greatly at risk, often traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking at the roadway. Talking and listening to phone conversations while driving were not nearly as distracting as some studies suggest. The distractions arose from having to look at the phone while dialing, reaching for a phone or texting.


While it is now illegal to text while driving in North Carolina, law enforcement officials have stated the difficulty they face in enforcing the new law since it is often difficult to catch texting drivers in the act. Ultimately, the burden of responsibility falls upon drivers to accept that attempting to send text messages behind the wheel is extremely dangerous and discontinue doing so.


Sources: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Insurance Institute For Highway Safety