New Study Says Texting a Distraction, But Talking is Not

Posted on Jan 02, 2014

A new study on distracted driving confirms that texting, reaching for the cell phone, or even dialing the phone drastically increases the risk of a collision, especially among younger drivers. However, this new studym out of Virginia Tech, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, bucks the trend many other studies have established, finding that talking on the phone does not present the same risk, regardless of driver expereience.


The study built two study groups, novice drivers and more experienced drivers. The obvious finding:  noviced drivers were more distracted with “secondary” activities like reaching for the phone, dialing, and texting. However, talking on the phone, which apparently did not involve visual distraction, did not reveal a considerable increased risk of collision.


There are a couple of observations to keep in mind. First, the study acknowledged its limitations, including the study sample sizes. (Sample size is always important when applying findings from testing a small group of people to the entire population) Also, the study acknowledged that most of the events recorded where “near crashes,” as opposed to an actual collision.


Once again, a comprehensive study proves the obvious: not paying attention while you were driving can cause a crash.


However, the fact that experienced drivers do better may at first seem obvious, but thre is a bit more to the story when considering reaction times to “hazards” on the road. Human factor studies show a significant variation in the driver reaction time to certain hazards, much of which is based on whether the hazard is “known” or “unknown.” For example, brake lights ahead of you in heavy traffic are certainly a known hazard, and to be expected. Many of us deal with this every day. However, a large barrel rolling into traffic from the side of the road into your lane of taffic is an "unknown" hazard.  Your brain is going to take just a little bit longer to figure that out, and when traveling highway speeds, a half of a second is a long tirme.


These tests at first may seem a bit silly because they establish obvious hazards. However, in a disputed liability case, we review the same kind of studies with experts to determine the best way to present a case.
Questions? Call us at 503-325-8600. We have real experience dealing with injuries resulting from distracted driving.