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Texting while driving raises crash risk

2014-01-02 08:46

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING: Using a cellphone while driving can significantly increase your risk of a crash. Image: SHUTTERSTOCK

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that dialing, texting or reaching for a cellphone while driving raises the risk of a crash, especially for younger drivers.

The research also revealed that speaking on your cellphone while driving did not prove dangerous, as reported in other studies.

INCREASED RISK BEHIND THE WHEEL

Even though talking doesn't require drivers to take their eyes off the road, it's hard to talk on a phone without first reaching for it or dialing a number, an action that could raise the risk of a crash.

Earlier work with simulators, test-tracks and cellphone records suggests that risky driving increases when people are on cellphones, especially teens. The 15-to-20-year-old age group in the US, accounts for 6% of all drivers but 10% of traffic deaths and 14% of police-reported crashes with injuries.

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute installed video cameras, global positioning systems and sensors that measured speed and acceleration, in the cars of 42 licensed drivers aged 16-17 years old, and 109 adults with an average of 20 years behind the wheel.

The risk of a crash or near-miss among young drivers increased more than sevenfold if they were dialing or reaching for a cellphone and fourfold if they were sending or receiving a text message.

The risk also rose if they were reaching for something other than a phone, looking at a roadside object or eating.

Among older drivers, only dialing a cellphone increased the chances of a crash. However, that study began before texting became more common, so researchers are unsure if it is as dangerous for older drivers as it is for teens.

Being distracted behind the wheel increased as time went on among novice drivers but not among experienced ones.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration paid for the research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

David Strayer, a University of Utah scientist who has done research on this topic, said the findings that merely talking on a phone while driving was not dangerous is "completely at odds with what we found".

'YOU MIGHT JUST RUN A RED LIGHT'

The study methods and tools may have underestimated risks because video cameras capture wandering eyes but can't measure cognitive distraction, he said.

Strayer said: "You don't swerve so much when you're talking on a cellphone; you just might run through a red light."

He added that sensors would not necessarily register is anything was wrong unless a crash occurred. As for texting while driving, he commented: "We all agree that things like taking your eyes off the road are dangerous."

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Read more on:    usa  |  crash  |  texting  |  cellphone

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