Study highlights dangers of texting while driving, again

Chicago (IL) – There is a new study released by the Virginia  Tech  Transportation  Institute  (VTTI), which tells us that texting while driving is dangerous, four times as dangerous as dialing on a cell phone and more than three times as dangerous than reaching for or using an electronics device. Here is my question: How often do we have to be reminded how dangerous these activities are before we follow the obvious advice and before all states ban texting and using a handheld device while driving?

The VTTI found in a study that covered a combined 6 million miles of driving that texting while driving is by far the most risky cellphone activity in a car. It’s risk to cause a crash or near-crash event (in heavy vehicles or trucks) was found to be 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving, while dialing was found to be 5.9 times as high, talking and listening 1.0 times as high, and reaching for or using any electronics device was estimated to be 6.7 times as high.

There was a limited data set made available for use of cellphones in light vehicles. The risk of a crash or near-crash was found to be 2.8 times higher when dialing, 1.3 times higher when talking or listening and 1.4 times higher when reaching for an object compared to non-distracted driving.

The results are not that surprising as common sense suggests that there is an increased risk when during when your focus is not entirely on what is happening around you. And it surely isn’t the first study highlighting these risks. For example, a Carnegie Mellon study released in March of 2008 said that just listening to cellphones while driving “significantly” impairs drivers. The researchers used study brain imaging to document that listening alone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%.  

Lawmakers have been reacting to research over the past few years and are increasingly banning cellphone activity while driving. 14 states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit texting while driving. 10 additional states ban texting only for novice drivers. There are no texting bans in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, new York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode island, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), there is currently no complete ban of cellphone use in any U.S. state, five states ban cellphone handheld use for all drivers, 21 states and the District of Columbia ban cellphone use for novice drivers, 17 states and the District of Columbia ban the use of cellphones for school bus drivers when passengers are present.

Texting while driving is currently banned by 14 states and the District of Columbia, 10 states prohibit texting for novice drivers; Texas legally prohibits texting only for school bus drivers. 8 states have laws that prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting restrictions. Interestingly, the GHSA still claims that it is unclear whether cellphone use and activities such as texting impact a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.

In a statement, the GHSA says that “the impact of these cell phone bans is not yet clear. To date, there has been little research on the various handheld bans that have been enacted in numerous jurisdictions. These types of laws are difficult to enforce and may give drivers a false sense of safety. For these reasons, GHSA continues to oppose handheld cell phone bans. However, “while GHSA does not support a legislative ban on all cell phone use for all drivers, the Association continues to support a ‘no-use’ message when it comes to cell phones and driving,” GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey, Jr. said.