Study: Texting, dialing and reaching for the phone raises crash risk

By CRM Staff

Toronto, Ontario — January 2, 2014 — Distracted driving often leads to collisions, but a new study shows that simply talking on the phone may not be as dangerous as previously thought. 

The study, published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, installed video cameras, GPS systems and various sensors to track movement, speed and acceleration in the cars of 42 newly licensed drivers 16 or 17 years old, and also in the vehicles of 109 adults with an average of 20 years behind the wheel. The study was conducted by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. 
A number of earlier studies using simulators and test-tracks, as well as studies looking at cellphone records, seemed to suggest that simply using a cellphone caused risky driving behaviours, especially among teens. Teens only comprise 6 percent of drivers, but are involved in 10 percent of all traffic deaths and 14 percent of crashes with injuries, according to statistics from the U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 
The Virginia Tech study found that most of the activities associated with cellphones, such as dialing, texting or simply reaching for the phone, raised the risk of both crashes and near misses, especially in the case of younger drivers. However, simply holding a conversation on the phone did not. The study’s authors noted that anything that requires drivers to take their eyes off their road resulted in increased risk of a collision. From the New England Journal of Medicine article:
“In contrast to dialing and other high-risk tasks such as texting and reaching for a cell phone or other object, talking on a cell phone does not require the driver to look away from the road ahead. However, our findings should not be interpreted to suggest that there is no risk associated with this activity, since previous simulation and test-track research has shown that talking on a cell phone reduces attention to visible road hazards and degrades driving performance.10-12 Also, talking on a cell phone can rarely be accomplished without reaching for it and dialing the phone or answering calls, all of which are likely to take the driver’s eyes off the road.”

The study found that risk of a collision or near-miss increased more than seven times for young drivers who were dialing or reaching for a phone. Surprisingly, the risk was only four times as great if they were sending or receiving a text message. The other part of the study, which examined older drivers, found dialing a cellphone to be the only activity that significantly increased the chance of a collision. The study’s authors caution, however, that the part of the study examining older drivers began two years ago, before texting became as common as it is now, so it’s not possible to determine for sure if it’s as dangerous for older drivers as for teenagers. 
You can see the complete text of the New England Journal of Medicine article here

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