A new study finds texting and phone dialing raises the risk of car accidents, particularly among novice drivers. It also finds talking on the phone does not increase risks, as long as drivers watch the road.
Researchers installed cameras to watch a group of teens and a group of veteran drivers as they texted, dialed, and used other handheld devices. Then they analyzed video from the final seconds before crashes.
Unlike past studies, this one did not identify a problem with people talking on the phone while keeping two hands on the wheel, according to researcher Sheila Klauer of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
“We’re looking specifically at dialing, texting for that specific device, as well as talking on a cell phone. And what we find is, any of those tasks that require the driver to look away, those are the things that increase risk the most,” said Klauer.
“We found that talking on the cell phone, most of the time the driver’s eyes are forward,” she said. “That activity in and of itself does not increase risk whereas anything else surrounding the actual use of a wireless device while driving does.”
Jenny Robinson, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said her organization recently did a study tracking the brain activity of drivers and found slightly different results.
“I think people know texting and dialing the cell phone while driving is a bad idea but a lot of people may believe it’s OK as long as it’s hands free,” Robinson said. “What we found is even some of the hands-free activities are also very distracting to drivers because they distract you mentally.”
The Virginia study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Bans on texting while driving have been implemented in 41 states, including Pennsylvania. Delaware and New Jersey ban texting and using a handheld phone while behind the wheel.