Texting While Driving Raises Crash Risks: Study

A study done by Car and Driver found that texting while driving is even worse then driving impaired. The test was done over a strip of taxiway on the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport in Oscoda, Michigan and the driver needed to respond five times to the light and the slowest reaction time (the amount of time between the activation of the light and the driver hitting the brakes) was recorded.
Another study from The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, compiled the research and plans to release its findings on Tuesday, measured the time drivers took their eyes from the road to send or receive texts.
Video cameras were installed into various trucks collecting the data. According to the New York Times, the overall cost was $6 million to equip the trucks with video cameras and track them for three million miles as they hauled furniture, frozen foods and other goods across the country.
The study found that in the moments before a text-related crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices -- enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.
Compared with other sources of driver distraction, "texting is in its own universe of risk," said Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study at the institute.
Hanowski said the texting analysis was financed by $300,000 from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, with the mission of improving safety in trucks and buses.
The final analysis of the data is undergoing peer review before formal publication.
Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech institute, one of the world's largest vehicle safety research organizations, said the study's message was clear.
"You should never do this," he said of texting while driving. "It should be illegal."
Currently, there are thirty-six states that do not ban texting and 14 that do, including Alaska, California, Louisiana and New Jersey.
In New York, legislators have sent a bill to Gov. David A. Paterson, said the New York Times, but legislators in some states have rejected such rules, and elected officials say they need more data to determine whether to ban the activity.
In December, phone users in the United States sent 110 billion messages, a tenfold increase in just three years, according to the cellular phone industry's trade group, CTIA.
The University of Utah also conducted a study over the last 18 months looked at college students using a sophisticated driving simulator and uncovered the risk they would crash was eight times greater when texting than when not texting.
David Strayer, a professor who co-wrote the University of Utah report, offered two explanations for the simulator's showing lower risks than the Virginia study. Trucks are tougher to maneuver and stop, he said, and the college students in his study might be somewhat better at multitasking.
But the differences in the studies are not the point Strayer said, "You're off the charts in both cases. It's crazy to be doing it."
At Virginia Tech, researchers said they focused on texting among truckers because the trucking study was relatively new and thus better reflected the explosive growth of texting. But another new study from the organization is focusing on texting among so-called light-vehicle drivers, specifically teenagers.
Preliminary results from that study show risk levels for texters roughly comparable to those of the truck drivers. The formal results of the light-vehicle study should be available later this year, the New York Times said.
A previous Virginia institute study videotaping car drivers found that they were three times more likely to crash or come close to a crash when dialing a phone and 1.3 times more likely when talking on it.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety plans to publish polling data that show that 87 percent of people consider drivers texting or e-mailing to pose a "very serious" safety threat.
Of the 2,501 drivers surveyed this spring, 95 percent said that texting was unacceptable behavior while 21 percent of drivers said they had recently texted or e-mailed while driving.
About half of drivers 16 to 24 said they had texted while driving, compared with 22 percent of drivers 35 to 44.
"It's convenient," said Robert Smith, 22, a recent college graduate in Windham, Me. He says he regularly texts and drives even though he recognizes that it is a serious risk. He would rather text, he said, than take time on a phone call.
"I put the phone on top of the steering wheel and text with both thumbs," he said, adding that he often has exchanges of 10 messages or more. Sometimes, "I'll look up and realize there's a car sitting there and swerve around it."
Smith, who was not part of the AAA survey, said he was surprised by the findings in the new research about texting.
"I'm pretty sure that someday it's going to come back to bite me," he said of his behavior.
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