Attention Demands May Explain Why Texting While Driving Is So Dangerous

December 21, 2009

( -- A timely study in the journal Human Factors suggests why texting while driving is riskier than talking on a cell phone or with another passenger. Human factors/ergonomics researchers at the University of Utah found that texters in a driving simulator had more crashes, responded more slowly to brake lights on cars in front of them, and showed impairment in forward and lateral control than did drivers who talked on a cell phone while driving or drove without texting.

Researchers Frank Drews and colleagues found evidence that attention patterns differ for who text versus those who converse on a . In the latter case, the researchers say, "drivers apparently attempt to divide attention between a and , adjusting the processing priority of the two activities depending on task demands." But texting requires drivers to switch their attention from one task to the other. When such attention-switching occurs as drivers compose, read, or receive a text, their overall reaction times are substantially slower than when they're engaged in a phone conversation. The type of texting activity also appears to make a difference; in this study, reading messages affected braking times more than did composing them.

The hazards of texting while driving continue to receive broad national and international attention as accident rates attributed to this practice increase. As a result, a growing number of U.S. cities and states, as well as Canadian provinces, ban texting while operating a vehicle. Drews et al. noted that according to CTIA (, more than 1 trillion text messages were sent in 2008 in the United States alone. To find why and how much drivers are impaired during texting, the researchers engaged 20 men and 20 women between the ages of 19 and 23 in both a single task (straight driving) and a dual task (driving and texting) in a high-fidelity simulator. The participants, experienced texters with an average of 4.75 years of driving experience, received and sent messages while the researchers observed their brake onset time, following distance, lane maintenance, and collisions.

The crash risk attributable to texting is substantial. One possible explanation is that drivers who text tend to decrease their minimum following distance and also experience delayed reaction time. For example, in the Drews et al. study, drivers' median reaction time increased by 30 percent when they were texting and 9 percent when they talked on the phone, compared with their performance in a driving-only condition.

A copy of the paper, "Text Messaging During Simulated Driving," by Frank A. Drews, Hina Yazdani, Celeste N. Godfrey, Joel M. Cooper, and David L. Strayer is available at .

Explore further: New Jersey Lawmakers May Ban Texting While Driving

Related Stories

New Jersey Lawmakers May Ban Texting While Driving

March 27, 2007

New Jersey drivers who insist on sending text messages on their cell phones or personal digital assistants may find themselves on the wrong side of the law if legislators approve a new bill.

1 in 4 Americans is texting while driving: poll

May 20, 2009

In the United States, where driving while using telephones without hands-free adaptor kits and texting at the wheel are not widely illegal, one in four people confesses to texting and driving, a survey found Wednesday.

Texting increases crash risk 23 times: study

July 28, 2009

Text messaging behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or a near crash by 23 times, and is far more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving, according to a report released Tuesday.

Ford backs bill to ban texting while driving

September 11, 2009

(AP) -- Ford said Thursday it backs federal legislation pressuring states to ban texting while driving in an effort to reduce driver distractions that could lead to accidents.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 22, 2009
I cant be the only driver that strives to always assign adequate attention to driving, that attention increasing and decreasing from moment to moment and the situation requires. Other tasks are always secondary, my attention to them suffers when it must, not to driving. Reaction tests etc are meaningless since differnt condition require completely different intensity of attention. As I said Im surely not the only driver that behaves this way. Research should instead strive to reveal how drivers that properly devide attention accomplish this, and then publish instructions for those that dont do it right. Some drives can go for decades without allowing any distractions to cause a problem. Texting while driving is not inherently unsafe. Texting unsafely while driving is the problem. To text safely that means sometimes you can text safely while driving, sometimes you cant. And you should be able to tell the difference.
Dec 25, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.