Texting Study Finds Slower Driver Response Times

AUSTIN (AP) – New findings from a Texas study show texting while driving is more dangerous than previously thought.

Reading or writing a text message behind the wheel can more than double a driver’s reaction time, according to a study released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute.

“Our findings suggest that response times are even slower than what we originally thought,” said Christine Yager, a TTI researcher, who managed the study. “Texting while driving basically doubles a driver’s reaction time and makes the driver less able to respond to sudden roadway dangers, if a vehicle were to make a sudden stop in front of them or if a child was to run across the road.”

Reaction times slowed from one to two seconds with no texting activity, to three to four seconds while texting, the study found. The study found very little difference in response times between a driver composing a message and reading one.

Researchers studied 42 drivers between the ages of 16 and 54 on a test-track driving course in vehicles equipped with a flashing light and a monitoring system. To put the findings in context, Yager said drivers going 30 mph travel 220 feet in five seconds. At 60 mph, a driver covers 440 feet in five seconds, she said.

“If you’re on a freeway where the speed limit is 60 in rush hour and a vehicle suddenly stops in front of you, that’s not enough time to react if your eyes are glanced down at your phone,” Yager said.

Drivers in the study were more than 11 times more likely to miss the flashing light altogether when they were texting.

Researchers say the study is the first published work in the U.S. to examine texting while driving in actual vehicles rather than in simulators. Studies have been confined to simulators in the past for safety concerns. The researchers said 40 drivers is considered by the research community to be an acceptable number to produce meaningful findings in this type of study; other similar studies quoted by the report used as few as 20 drivers.

Texting and driving has already been deemed dangerous, with 34 states adopting texting and driving bans, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The Texas Legislature approved a texting ban earlier this year, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the measure, calling it an “overreach” and a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Texas law does ban cellphone use in school zones and includes restrictions for drivers under the age of 18.

In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, the agency said. It’s unclear how many of those fatalities can be blamed specifically on texting.

“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,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement responding to the study. “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.”

To conduct the study, researchers monitored participants on a closed driving course three times: without sending or receiving text messages, while continuously composing a story of their choice and while continuously reading a fairy tale sent to their mobile device.

Participants, who were paid $40, were recruited through word of mouth and from a database of past research participants. About two-thirds of the participants, using their own mobile devices, used touch-screen phones, while the rest used a raised QWERTY keypad. Gender was approximately split.

Yager said the institute, which is part of Texas A&M University, doesn’t take positions on what laws should be adopted. The goal is “to provide objective research findings that we hope would be helpful to people in the public policy arena so they can make informed decisions,” she said.

The study also found texting impaired the ability of drivers to maintain proper lane position and a constant speed.

Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said the study bolsters the group’s push for a texting ban in every state.

“Texting while driving is dangerous and drivers really don’t have any business texting while driving, no text is that important,” Adkins said.

Adkins said most drivers overestimate their ability to multitask while on the road.

The TTI study “gives more and more credibility to the fact that texting while driving is dangerous.

“Maybe it’ll have some impact in Texas as well, maybe it’s the tipping point. We can hope at least.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • darrell

    hang on, ill comment on this after i text it to someone.

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  • TM

    Distracted driving can come from so many different sources, it would make driving virtually impossible to pass laws for each distraction that drivers encounter. Instead of making certain distractions illegal for everyone, they should instead continue to look for ways to improve ease of use for things that may cause a driver to be distracted; such as integrated voice commands in all vehicles. Another possible option is to start requiring drivers to pass tests regarding distractions and using the tests to provide access for those that are able to safely drive with whatever distraction might be occurring. Some people are too focused on trying to limit perfectly capable individuals from texting while driving, when numerous distractions from other sources have existed for decades and are not being addressed by making them illegal; despite the fact that they may be just as hazardous to people that cannot multitask while driving. Children/Passengers can be extremely distracting, but I highly doubt any law would be passed to ban them from being in the vehicle. Some other common distractions are eating, drinking, smoking, playing with the radio, adjusting the seat, adjusting the environmental controls, trying to find songs on mp3 players, reading some highway signage, geographically features (such as buildings, lakes, municipal art projects, etc.), accidents; all of which drivers encounter and can be distracting depending on the driver, but some people are focused solely on trying to ban texting while driving.

    • darrell

      i highly recommend a new concept whereas each passenger is incapsulated within a restraining soundproof bubble until released by the driver. in addition, with the issue of your drivers certificate you recieve a USB port implant in the middle of your forehead. this is for the virtual interactive environmental control computer equiped in each vehicle which will let each segment of the drivers brain enjoy or interact with other segments of reality while those skills for driving are allowed to concentrate on that responsibility. the possible uses when not driving are limited only to the imagination.

    • RussP

      A law requiring two hands on the wheel eliminates most of what you just mentioned without having to write a seperate law for each “distraction”. I personally don’t categorize things people choose to do like texting or eating while driving the same as a distraction caused by a flash of light on the side of the road or a deer running by.

  • Rick McDaniel

    Cell phones will continue to contribute to accidents and deaths……..because no amount of bans, will actually be enforceable, and everyone knows it.

    Expect people to behave sensibly? Not going to happen, and we all know it.

  • DDT

    More dangerous than previously thought? File under, “Duh, YA THINK?!”

    All you have to do is see these idiots drift into other lanes, nearly rear-end other motorists, etc. Texting while driving isn’t a DISTRACTION in the sense of the word some are seeing it as. This is something you CHOOSE to do – an intentional distraction, if you will. To me, an unavoidable distraction, or at least one that is hard to ignore, would be looking over at a car wreck, or seeing a hot chick flashing her bazongas at passing cars, or a grass fire. Texting and driving is not similar to those. It’s a willful disregard for public safety.

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  • DriversWhoTextAreStupid

    it’s the kind of thinking people like tm that appear to be running our country these days…complete idiots…i don’t mind if you text while driving…I just hope that all of you that do that would run into a parked truck and be done with you…would make the roads a lot safer for the rest of us. Is stupid idiot an oxymoron?

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