We have all seen other drivers texting while they are driving. We may have even texted while driving. Texting while driving is a type of distracted driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distracted driving is “driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving.” There are three main types of distraction. In the first, your eyes are not looking at the road. In the second, your hands are off the wheel. And, in the third, your mind is thinking of something other than driving. Texting combines all three of these types. While texting, one must focus on the text; the head is focused on the text for at least a few seconds. Younger, less experienced drivers under the age of 20 have the highest rate of distraction-related fatal crashes. That makes texting especially dangerous. 1
Every year, thousands of people in the United States are killed in distracted driver crashes and hundreds of thousands are injured. In 2011, 17 percent of all crashes involved a distracted driver. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 31 percent of U.S. drivers between the ages of 18 and 64 years reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within 30 days of the survey. That’s almost a third of all drivers. 2
Many states have enacted laws against texting while driving. And, there are a few federal laws, such as the September 17, 2010, law issued by the Federal Railroad Administration, that banned the use of cell phones and electronic devices by employees while they are working. The next month, on October 27, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibited commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving. 3 In April 2014, the National Highway Safety Administration launched its first national advertising campaign to combat distracted drivers. Multiple media advertisements were designed to coincide with a “nationwide law enforcement crackdown in states with distracted driving bans.” Before starting the car engine, all drivers need to turn off their phones, and place them out of reach. And, older drivers should set an example for younger drives. Parents should make a point of talking to their teens about responsible driving. 4
In an article published in 2015 in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, researchers from several locations in the United States and Nairobi, Kenya, assembled 19 evidence-based review articles on distracted driving. The researchers directed their attention to articles published between 2000 and 2013, a time period when it became increasingly evident that large numbers of people were texting and driving. In addition, they noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has declared that motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death and disability among teens. “Inexperience and distracted driving are common contributing factors for the teen driver involved in collisions.” As a result, the researchers issued several recommendations for drivers. First, drivers should minimize all in-vehicle distractions. Second, drivers should not use any messaging device. And, finally, in addition to not using any messaging systems, younger drivers should avoid using cell phones. The researchers concluded that “competent driving involves dedicated attention to road conditions using all senses; dangerously, both the novice and the distracted drivers fail to appreciate their responsibility. Elimination of distraction is key to preventing further mortality.” 5
In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Safety Research, researchers from Sweden investigated the association between the driving context and the drivers’ decision to engage in visual-manual phone tasks, such as texting and dialing. Using several devices, everyday data were collected from 100 Volvo cars over a one-year period of time. The cars were driven in real traffic with their normal drivers. Video recordings of 1,432 car trips were used for the analysis. The researchers learned that visual-manual phone tasks were generally initiated when the car was stopped; these tasks were less likely to occur when the car was at a higher speed or a passenger was present. Drivers were more likely to complete these tasks when there were clear weather conditions, lower traffic density, and when they were driving on rural roads, motorways, or highways. When drivers had higher-demand driving maneuvers, such as sharp turns and roundabouts, they would delay using their phones until the maneuver was completed. Thus, the researchers noted that the use of phones does not occur at random. Drivers are deciding when and how to use their devices. Moreover, “this adaptive behavior of task timing clearly suggests that drivers are aware of the increased risk of VM [visual-motor] phone tasks while driving.” 6
In a study published in 2011 in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, a researcher from Middletown, Pennsylvania, wanted to quantify the amount of text messaging and other types of distracted driving practiced by college students. The cohort consisted of 91 college students (60 females and 31 males); they drove a mean of 6.08 days per week. A stunning 91 percent of the students reported that they have used text messaging while driving. They sent text messages even if other people, including children, were in the car. In addition, the students reported that they drove above the speed limit and drifted into other lanes while text messaging. Almost 40 percent of the students have driven while eating and text messaging. At the same time, the researcher noted that “most people in this study believed that texting while driving is dangerous, distracting, and should be illegal.” The researcher concluded that there is a need for stronger anti-texting laws and more rigorous enforcement of these laws. And, she concluded her article with a poignant statement: “The irony is not lost in that texting while driving may lead to devastating consequences for one’s self and for others, including never seeing again the people to whom one has an ostensibly obsessive desire to stay connected.” 7
In a study published in 2014 in the journal Human Factors, researchers from Florida and Ohio wanted to learn more about the distraction potential of texting with Google Glass, a “mobile wearable platform capable of receiving and sending short-message-service and other messaging formats,” while driving. Google Glass enables people to send text messages using voice transcription as well as head commands. Was texting with Google Glass safer than texting with a phone, as some have claimed? During the trial, about 40 participants drove in a simulator while they texted about arithmetic problems via Google Glass or a smartphone. While this was taking place, the drivers had to deal with the car in front of them braking suddenly. When compared to driving without any distractions, the researchers found that messaging using either Google Glass or a smartphone impaired driving. The researchers noted that Google Glass messages “served to moderate but did not eliminate distracting cognitive demands.” 8
In a study published in 2014 in Southern Medical Journal, researchers from Alabama investigated the types of risky behaviors practiced by teen drivers and their passengers in Jefferson County, Alabama. According to these researchers, Alabama ranked fourth in the United States for teen crash fatalities. The cohort consisted of 1,399 teens, between the ages of 15 and 18 years, who completed surveys in 2009 and 2010. Fifty-two percent of the participants were males; 64 percent were white; and, 29 percent were African American. When the teens were asked about their behaviors during the previous 30 days, 41 percent reported texting and 11 percent reported driving after drinking. Sixty-seven percent of the teens said that they had been in a car in which the driver was texting. The researchers noted that their findings were “alarming.” And, they concluded that, “a concerning number of teens are not receiving safe driving educational messages from parents, doctors, or driver’s education classes.” According to these researchers, there is a need for stronger driving laws and more education for both parents and teens. 10
In a study published in 2015 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a researcher from Tennessee examined social factors that lead people to text while driving. The cohort consisted of adults aged 18 years and older who were surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the 2010 Spring Change Assessment.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov.
4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov.
5. Luis E. Llerena, Kathy V. Aronow, Jana Macleod et al., “An Evidence-Based Review: Distracted Driver,” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 78, no. 1 (2015): 147-52.
6. E. Tivesten and M. Dozza, “Driving Context Influences Drivers’ Decision to Engage in Visual-Manual Phone Tasks: Evidence from a Naturalistic Driving Study,” Journal of Safety Research 53 (2015): 87-96.
7. Marissa A. Harrison, “College Students’ Prevalence and Perceptions of Text Messaging While Driving,” Accident Analysis and Prevention 43 (2011): 1516-20.
8. B. D. Sawyer, V. S. Finomore, A. A. Calvo, and P. A. Hancock, “Google Glass: A Driver Distraction Cause or Cure?” Human Factors 56, no. 7 (2014): 1307-21.
9. M. J. Sullman, F. Prat, and D. K. Tasci, “A Roadside Study of Observable Driver Distractions,” Traffic Injury Prevention 16, no. 6 (2015): 552-57.
10. E. Irons, M. Nichols, W. D. King et al., “Teen Driving Behaviors in a Rural Southern State,” Southern Medical Journal 107, no. 12 (2014): 735-38.
11. Steven J. Seiler, “Hand on the Wheel, Mind on the Mobile: An Analysis of Social Factors Contributing to Texting While Driving,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 18, no. 2 (2015): 72-78.
Barr, Jr., Gavin C., Kathleen E. Kane, Robert D. Barraco et al. “Gender Differences in Perceptions and Self-Reported Driving Behaviors Among Teenagers.” Journal of Emergency Medicine 48, no. 3 (2015): 366-70.
Harrison, Marissa A. “College Students’ Prevalence and Perceptions of Text Messaging While Driving.” Accident Analysis and Prevention 43 (2011): 1516-20.
Hill, Linda, Jill Rybar, Tara Styer et al. “Prevalence of and Attitudes About Distracted Driving in College Students.” Traffic Injury Prevention 16, no. 4 (2015): 362-67.
Irons, E., M. Nichols, W. D. King et al. “Teen Driving Behaviors in a Rural Southern State.” Southern Medical Journal 107, no. 12 (2014): 735-38.
Llerena, Luis E., Kathy V. Aronow, Jana Macleod et al. “An Evidence-Based Review: Distracted Driver.” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 78, no.1 (2015): 147-52.
Sawyer, B. D., V. S. Finomore, A. A. Calvo, and P. A. Hancock. “Google Glass: A Driver Distraction Cause or Cure?” Human Factors 56, no. 7 (2014): 1307-21.
Seiler, Steven J. “Hand on the Wheel, Mind on the Mobile. An Analysis of Social Factors Contributing to Texting While Driving.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 18, no. 2 (2015): 72-78.
Sullman, M. J., F. Prat, and D. K. Tasci. “A Roadside Study of Observable Driver Distractions.” Traffic Injury Prevention 16, no. 6 (2015): 552-57.
Tivesten, E., and M. Dozza. “Driving Context Influences Drivers’ Decision to Engage in Visual-Manual Phone Tasks: Evidence from a Naturalistic Driving Study.” Journal of Safety Research 53 (2015): 87-96.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov .
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. www.nhtsa.gov .