New study says texting doubles a driver’s reaction time

Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University have determined that a driver’s reaction time is doubled when distracted by reading or sending a text message. The texting impairment is even greater than many experts believed, and demonstrates how texting drivers are less able to react to sudden roadway hazards.

In addition to the reaction-time element, researchers also measured each driver’s ability to maintain proper lane position and a constant speed. Major findings further documented the impairment of texting when compared to the controlled driving conditions. Drivers were less able to:

  • Safely maintain their position in the driving lane when they were texting and their swerving was worse in the open sections of the course than in barreled sections.
  • Maintain a constant speed while texting, tending to slow down in an effort to reduce the demand of the multiple tasks. By slowing down, a driver gains more time to correct for driving errors (such as the tendency to swerve while texting). Speed variance was also greater for texting drivers than for non-texting drivers.

The fact that the study was conducted in an actual driving environment is important, the researchers say. While simulators are useful, the dynamics of an actual vehicle are different, and some driver cues can’t be replicated in a simulator.

The total distance covered by each driver in the study was slightly less than 11 miles. In the interest of safety for both participants and the research staff, researchers minimized the complexity of the driving task, using a straight-line course that contained no hills, traffic or potential conflicts other than the construction zone barrels. Consequently, the driving demands that participants encountered were considerably lower than those they would encounter under real-world conditions.

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dbda is a corporate social responsibility consultancy embracing education and safety in the community. We are privileged to work with a large number of blue chip corporate clients, Government organisations, charitable bodies, Institutes and local authorities. We also have a network of schools, professional bodies, associations, universities and partners, with whom we regularly work in collaboration.

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