Texting while driving increases crash risk 23-fold

Virginia Tech study of truck drivers recommends ban on texting while driving

Drivers of heavy trucks who were texting while driving were at a 23 times greater risk of a crash or near-crash than those who were not, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported last night.

The findings of a series of studies (download PDF) released by the research institute also showed that the risk to truck drivers from texting was much higher than the risk from dialing a cell phone. The institute also found that talking on or listening to a cell phone while driving a heavy truck caused no distraction.

For drivers of light trucks and cars, talking and listening slightly increased the risk of a crash or near-crash, while dialing a cell phone increased the likelihood of a crash by a factor of 2.8. The institute's summary of its findings did not address whether texting caused distractions to car drivers.

The findings are based on observations of drivers in real-world road conditions using cameras and instruments installed in participants' vehicles. Overall, drivers were observed over 6 million miles of driving.

The cameras were used to make analyses of eye glance movements to assess where the drivers were looking. The tasks that drew the driver's eyes away from the forward roadway were judged to have the highest risk.

In light of the findings, the institute said texting should be banned in moving vehicles for all drivers, a step taken in 14 states and supported by some cell phone industry groups.

As has been shown in other recent studies, including one involving driving simulators conducted at the University of Utah, Virginia Tech reported that using a headset while talking on a cell phone is not substantially safer than holding a phone while talking, because of the risks associated with answering, dialing and other tasks that require a driver to take his eyes off the road.

The institute also suggested banning all cell phone use for newly licensed teen drivers, partly because those drivers engage in cell phone tasks more frequently than adults do. There are various laws in 23 states banning cell phone use for the youngest drivers. Teens in the Virginia Tech studies were four times more likely to get into a crash or near-crash than adults.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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