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Road Texting: An Accident Waiting to Happen

Road Texting: An Accident Waiting to Happen

Psychologists at the University of Utah say their research supports what most consider common sense: that writing and reading text messages while driving a car increases the likelihood of an accident. Specifically, they say texting behind the wheel is 50 percent more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving. In another study, 9 out of 10 Americans think road texting should be outlawed.

By John P. Mello Jr.
08/08/07 4:00 AM PT

The risk of getting into an auto accident while reading or writing text messages is 50 percent higher than talking on a phone while driving, according to new research.

A person talking on a cell phone when driving is four times more likely to get into an accident than someone driving without distraction from the phone; for someone "texting" when driving, the likelihood is six times higher, explained Frank Drews, an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Drews has just completed a simulation project involving students texting when driving.

"What we found was that accident risk was significantly increased when people were text messaging," he told TechNewsWorld.

Slow to React

He added that texters took 23 percent longer to react to driving situations than their non-texting counterparts. "If you're traveling 65 miles per hour, that is very meaningful," he observed.

Texters took 1,077 milliseconds to react to the brake lights of a vehicle in front of them, he noted, compared to 881 milliseconds for non-texters.

Last year, Drews, along with colleagues David L. Strayer and Dennis L. Couch, published their findings in the journal Human Factors, comparing drivers talking on a cell phone with drunk drivers.

Americans Against Texting

Meanwhile, Pinger, a mobile voice messaging company, released the results from a survey performed for it by Harris Interactive finding that nearly nine out of 10 (89 percent) of American adults believe that sending text messages or e-mails when driving is distracting, dangerous and should be outlawed.

It also revealed that 57 percent of those surveyed admitted to sending text messages while driving and 64 percent reading them when behind the wheel.

"I thought the numbers would be high, but I didn't think they'd be that high," Pinger Cofounder Joe Sipher told TechNewsWorld. "Over 50 percent was kind of a shocker."

High Text Bracket

In the prime texting age bracket, 18 to 34, the numbers were even higher -- 72 percent of respondents said they send messages while driving; 79 percent read messages while motoring.

"If a person sends me a text while I'm driving I tend to pick it up, as it might have information relevant to my itinerary," Elizabeth Kaeser, 23, a museum development and education worker in New York City told TechNewsWorld via e-mail.

"Text messages are short," she continued, "and the amount of time that I spend reading the message is comparable to the time I spend searching for a lost granola bar behind the seat or trying to read directions.

"I typically respond to texts I receive while driving with a phone call as it's faster, easier and hands-free for me," she said.

"There are, of course, always exceptions," she added, "and when I do send texts while driving, they tend to take me a very long time to type in because I can only do a letter or two at a time."

Carriers React

The Pinger poll will no doubt add momentum to legislative efforts to ban texting while driving. Washington state has adopted such a law and others, such as New York, California and Florida, are sniffing the prospects,

Such measures have received mixed reactions from mobile carriers.

"We have seen an increase in the number of bills in state legislatures banning texting while driving, and we haven't opposed them," Verizon spokesperson Debi Lewis told TechNewsWorld.

While not opposed to the laws, Sprint Nextel maintains they're not the best solution to the problem, according to spokesperson John Taylor.

"The problem of distracted driving is a serious problem and should be addressed in a broad fashion," he told TechNewsWorld. "We don't think it's appropriate to narrowly target one distraction out of dozens that drivers face."

Education Is Key

"We believe that the proper approach to solving this public policy problem is really improving driver education," he said.

To that end, Sprint Nextel has created a program called Focus On Driving that it distributes to driver education outlets free of charge.

AT&T also encourages the education solution to the problem with a free video it distributes to driving schools called "Be Sensible: Don't Drive Yourself to Distraction," according to spokesperson Lauren Butler.

"There's a testimonial in it from a teenager who was in a bad car accident because she was texting and driving," she told TechNewsWorld. "She almost lost her leg because of it.

"It's a pretty powerful message," she added.


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