A Texas Transportation Institute study tells us what we already knew — texting while driving is incredibly dangerous. That’s why I was stunned back in June when Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed a bill banning texting while driving. The bill was passed by the Texas House and Senate. See I’m Typing This While I’m Driving from this blog.
Now the Dallas Morning News has reported in detail on the new study. Here are excerpts from the article:
Texting drivers react at least twice as slowly as alert drivers, according to the study released this month. Moreover, reaction times deteriorate significantly regardless of whether drivers are reading or sending texts.
Study participants overall had trouble staying in lanes and maintaining speeds. And texting drivers were more than 11 times as likely to miss visual cues set up by researchers.
Christine Yager, one of the study’s authors and an associate researcher at TTI, a research arm of Texas A&M University, said the results suggest that texting can be like playing “Russian roulette.”
The study arrives four months after Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have effectively banned texting while driving. Perry, who has since launched a campaign for president, said in his veto message that the habit is reckless and irresponsible. But he called the ban a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”
Thirty-four states ban texting while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states ban cellphone use while driving altogether, even with hands-free technology.
Texas bans the use of wireless devices in school zones and for new drivers with intermediate licenses. Some cities, including Arlington and El Paso, have launched their own texting bans.
With smartphones and other portable devices more ubiquitous than ever, distracted driving has emerged as one of the technology era’s biggest challenges to roadway safety.
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates last week directly credited the recent global BlackBerry data outage with fueling an abrupt 40 percent decline in traffic accidents, according to news reports.
In the United States, one in four crashes is directly related to distracted driving, according to federal estimates. How many of those are specifically caused by phone use is unclear, but researchers believe the percentage is significant.
The TTI study relied on results gleaned from 42 participants of various ages who were monitored while actually driving on a closed course set up near the Texas A&M campus.
Drivers took turns alternately reading and typing on smartphones. Researchers also measured participant reaction times to a light attached to the test vehicle’s hood that flashed periodically.
The distraction of texting was so severe that some participants not only missed the flashing light but had trouble completing the 3.5-mile course without swerving or bumping into barrels, Yager said. None of the participants were ever in danger, she said.
Yager, the TTI study’s author, said she has modified her own habits. She no longer uses the phone for any reason while driving and often keeps it in the backseat to lessen the temptation to text or check email.
“It’s always a good idea to keep your eyes on the road,” she said. “It only takes that one time to forever change your life.”