There’s no serious dispute that texting while driving leads to crashes that get a lot of people hurt and killed. But, as The Associated Press reports, new research has found that the distraction of texting undermines the performance of drivers even more than previously thought.
The study, by the Texas Transportation Institute, monitored 42 drivers on an 11-mile test-track driving course. The research team watched how quickly the motorists responded to a flashing yellow light when they were focusing exclusively on their driving versus when they were texting behind the wheel.
According to the researchers, texting more than doubled driver reaction times. Reactions that ordinarily took one to two seconds instead took three to four seconds when someone was texting. And it made very little difference if a driver was composing a message or reading one.
What’s more, drivers who were texting were 11 times more likely to altogether miss the flashing light.
For a driver cruising at 60 mph, two extra seconds of reaction time means it takes 176 more feet to stop or maneuver the car.
Or, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement responding to the study: “If you look down to text for just a few seconds at 55 miles per hour, your car travels the length of a football field while you’re not looking at the road. Texting and talking on the phone while driving can be deadly, and drivers have a responsibility to put away these distracting devices every time they get behind the wheel.”
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 34 states have adopted bans on texting while driving. Still, 35 percent of drivers said they have read or sent a text message while driving in the last month, according to a survey released this week by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The new assessments come while automakers, as FairWarning reported last month, are running publicity campaigns urging drivers to avoid distractions such as texting behind the wheel. At the same time, however, FairWarning pointed out that the same car companies are seeking to pump up sales by packing their new models with cutting-edge infotainment systems that encourage multi-tasking, including texting, behind the wheel.
Federal authorities estimate that distracted driving caused 5,474 deaths in 2009, including 995 from using cellphones, although the precise number from texting isn’t clear.