Thursday, June 25, 2009

Test Demonstrates Texting While Behind The Wheel Can Be Even More Dangerous Than Impaired Driving

RJ Note: As I recall being a young driver, swerving cars usually meant drinking and driving. Now, it appears the honor for swerving cars now can indicate driving while talking or texting. How many times do you pass a swerving car and say to yourself "get off the phone and drive"?

I usually make sure I am at a complete stop before I try to talk on the phone. And I never text while driving. After all, it can take my complete dedication to listening to what is being said. Shoot, sometimes I can't even watch TV and talk at the same time.

/PRNewswire/ -- Text messaging is on the rise, and undoubtedly, some "texters" or "tweeters" are sending and receiving messages while driving. In December 2008, more than 110 billion messages were being sent each month, up from less than 10 billion just three years ago. To gauge the effect of these road messagers, Car and Driver magazine decided to conduct a road test to determine just how dangerous texting and driving can be. The results were eye-opening.

Previous academic studies have shown texting while driving using simulators impairs a driver's abilities. But as far as we know, no study has been conducted in a real vehicle that is being driven. In addition, Car and Driver also compared the results of texting to the effects of drunk driving, on the same day and under the exact same conditions.

The focus of the test was solely on the driver's reaction time. All of the driving was done in a straight line on an 11,800-foot runway. Given the prevalence of the BlackBerry, the iPhone, and other text-friendly mobile phones, the test subjects would have devices with full QWERTY keypads and would be familiar with text messaging. A web intern 22, armed with an iPhone, would represent the younger crowd. The older demographic would be covered by Editor-in-Chief, Eddie Alterman, 37.

After conducting the texting tests on both drivers at 35 mph and 70 mph, the test subjects then drank alcoholic cocktails until they reached the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content. They then went back behind the wheel and ran the identical test without any texting distractions.

The results showed even using a straight road without any traffic, road signals, or pedestrians, and looking just at reaction times, the texting results were even worse than the negative impaired driving results.

Both socially and legally, drunk driving is completely unacceptable. Texting, on the other hand, is still in its formative period with respect to laws and opinion. A few jurisdictions have passed ordinances against texting while driving. But even if sweeping legislation were passed today to outlaw any typing behind the wheel, it would still be very difficult to enforce the law.

As summarized by Alterman, "In our test, neither of us had any idea texting would slow down our reaction time so much. Like most folks, we believe we are good drivers, but the real key to driving safely is keeping your eyes and your mind on the road. Text messaging distracts any driver from those primary tasks."

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