Study: Texting could be as dangerous as drunk driving

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Text messaging while driving could be as bad or even worse than driving under the influence of alcohol, according to a new study by Car and Driver Magazine.

By testing the reflexes of two drivers while writing and reading text messages and comparing their response times to when they drove with no distractions, they recorded the amount of time it took for the driver to stop at a red light.

They then consumed enough alcoholic beverages to give them a blood alcohol content of .08 and took the test again. The test was performed on a rented runway where the test subjects could not cause accidents.

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Going 35 mph, the first text subject traveled six extra feet when reading a text, four extra feet while writing a text, and one extra foot when impaired. The second subject traveled 45 extra feet when reading a text, 41 extra feet when writing it, and seven extra feet when impaired. The results were similar when the test subjects were going 70 mph.

The results suggest that texting while driving is far more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol. Lt. Michael Gore of the Ohio State Highway Patrol thinks otherwise.

“They definitely can be similar but they’re different,” he said. “With OVI you have impairment. That’s different than not paying attention.” He said that with impairment, a person’s chances of taking evasive action in a high risk situation were low while those who are text messaging would be more likely to do so once they recognized the problem.

However, Gore said he did not want to de-emphasize the dangers of text messaging and driving.

“You can’t see where you’re going when you’re looking down at your phone,” he said. “It’s basically a divided attention skill.”

“It’s probably the worst thing you can do when you’re driving,” Sgt. Karla Taulbee of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said of texting. “Things can happen when they’re not paying full attention to the road ahead of them.”

Taulbee said there were two fatal accidents in Portsmouth last year in which text messaging caused the distraction. Gore said that there were a few suspected crashes in Lawrence County caused by text messaging distractions but that it was hard to tell how many since the only way of knowing is if the driver admits to doing it.

Both troopers suggested calling the highway patrol if someone is driving recklessly while on a cell phone, whether the person is talking or texting. They can be reached at (877) 7-PATROL.

“We get a lot of complaints from folks about it,” Gore said. He said that the complaints are mostly about drivers between the ages of 16 and 24. “Cell phone usage in and of itself is starting to become a problem.”

Gore said that he thinks all drivers should be courteous to other drivers by cutting down distractions as much as possible.

“If they want to talk on the cell phone they need to use a hands free device,” he said. “And don’t text while you’re driving. It’s not just you on the highway.”