Virginia Tech Study Takes Hard Look at Hand-Held Phone Distractions

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a study of hand-held cellphone distractions and the findings are clear: Making a phone call on the road with a hand-held device triples the odds of a car crash.

The Virginia Tech study focused on how cellphones cause distracted driving and measured the risk of performing different tasks on personal electronic devices while driving, such as reaching for a phone, dialing, texting, or looking up directions.

Rather than relying on survey results, researchers installed cameras in cars and studied drivers behind the wheel doing different tasks on smartphones.

Among the key findings of the Virginia Tech study:

  • Texting, web browsing, and emailing took drivers’ attention off the road for the longest amount of time compared with other cellphone activities.
  • Texting and driving or emailing and driving doubled the risk of an auto wreck or near crash.
  • Hands-free mobile technology isn’t really hands-free. Apps and devices that supposedly prevent drivers from using hand-held electronics require drivers to perform a visual-manual task 50% of the time.
  • Talking on a hand-held cellphone does not necessarily increase car collision risk, but actions such finding the phone, dialing a number, or searching cellphone contacts are very risky and cause driver distraction.

In addition to discovering that making calls behind the wheel triples the risk of getting in a car crash, the study found that texting or emailing takes the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 23 seconds—more than previously thought. In recent years, AT&T and public safety organizations estimated that texting takes a driver’s eyes from the road ahead for only five seconds, not 23.

To put the Virginia Tech figure in perspective: A car moving at 60 mph can travel almost 2,000 feet in the time it takes to compose a text message or write an email.

People who are injured in car crashes caused by distracted drivers should understand their legal options.

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