Texting is 23-times riskier than using cell phone while driving

Consumer Reports News: July 28, 2009 05:19 PM

A new study has found that texting while driving has the highest crash risk of all cell-phone related tasks and more than previously estimated. The real-world study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute used cameras and sensors in participants' personal vehicles to observe the cell phone use of light vehicle and truck drivers. The results show that manually texting and dialing cell phones caused a significant increase in crash risk. Texting was associated with the highest risk--23 times greater than when not texting. Dialing the phone or just reaching for a phone was associated with about six times greater risk, and talking or listening to a cell phone was just 1.3 times as high as non-distracted driving.

Those drivers who were texting also had their eyes off the road for the longest time—nearly five seconds when compared to other phone distractions. This equates to a driver covering a distance the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking at the road.

The study also found that using a headset is not safer than using a hand-held phone primarily because the greatest risk is taking your eyes off the road, which is required when initiating a call. The Institute said only “true hands-free” phones such as voice activated systems are less risky since they don’t require the driver to look at the phone. However, data from a recently released 2003 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report shows that hands-free or not, cell phones are a dangerous distraction.

Most drivers know that they are engaging in risky behavior by texting, but continue to do it. A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety poll of 2,501 drivers found almost 90 percent say texting and e-mailing while driving was a very serious threat to safety, although, 18 percent of those people admit to texting in the past month. Over two-thirds admit to talking on their cell phones behind the wheel and 21 percent have read or sent a text or e-mail within the past month.

Currently there are 14 states, plus the District of Columbia that ban texting while driving. The Virginia Institute recommends a ban on texting while driving in all states.

The overwhelming mountain of data about using cell-phones continues to point to a single conclusion: Hang up and drive.

For more information on distracted driving see our related reports:
Using wireless communication devices while driving
Cell phone use and driving laws
Dangers of cell phones while driving
Should cell phone use by drivers be illegal?
Texting while driving
Talking in the slow lane

Liza Barth

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