Virginia Tech Studies Support Total Texting-While-Driving Ban

The results, reported Monday afternoon by The New York Times, dispel the belief that truly hands-free phones are just as dangerous as driving drunk but pinpoint texting as highly dangerous.

"Texting should be banned in moving vehicles for all drivers" is one of four recommendations made by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on Monday as it released data quantifying the risk of a crash or near crash for car and truck drivers who use cell phones as they drive. Several studies that employed cameras and instruments inside drivers' vehicles concluded drivers of heavy trucks who engage in texting as they drive are at 23.2 times the risk of truckers who do not.

This was the highest risk identified by VTTI, by far, in the results, which were reported Monday afternoon by The New York Times. The data dispel the belief that truly hands-free phones are just as dangerous as driving drunk but pinpoint texting as highly dangerous.

"The results show conclusively that a real key to significantly improving safety is keeping your eyes on the road," VTTI's news release states. "In contrast, 'cognitively intense' tasks (e.g., emotional conversations, 'books-on-tape,' etc.) can have a measurable effect in the laboratory, but the actual driving risks are much lower in comparison."

The cell phone-related risks VTTI calculated are:

Light vehicle/car:

  • Dialing cell phone: 2.8 times higher
  • Talking/listening to cell phone: 1.3 times higher
  • Reaching for object (electronic device and other): 1.4 times higher

Heavy vehicle/truck:

  • Dialing cell phone: 5.9 times higher
  • Talking/listening to cell phone: 1.0 times higher
  • Use/reach for electronic device: 6.7 times higher
  • Text messaging: 23.2 times higher

The risk posed by texting while driving is so high because it draws the driver's eyes away from the roadway, the researchers found. But they said driving simulator studies suggest talking and listening to a cell phone while driving is not nearly as dangerous as driving drunk at the legal limit, although some other researchers have claimed that to be true. "Recent comparisons made in the literature greatly exaggerate the cell phone risk relative to the very serious effects of alcohol use, which increases the risk of a fatal crash approximately seven times that of sober driving," they wrote.

The institute's most important other recommendation Monday was banning all cell phone use by newly licensed teen drivers, because VTTI's research shows teens engage in cell phone use more frequently "and in much more risky situations" than adults. Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use because both involve dialing and other tasks that take the driver's eyes off the road, but a truly hands-free phone system is less risky, the institute reported.

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