Texting increases driver crash risk by 2,300 per cent says US experts
Researchers from the VTTI used in car video cameras, eye trackers, and sensors to gauge the impact of fatigue and distractions.
Research into the risk of distractions during real-life driving shows listening and talking on cell phones while driving is not particularly risky and we should focus heavily on the less frequent and newer cell phone tasks of texting, typing, reading, dialling, and reaching for a phone.
“Taking your eyes off the road to dial a cell phone or look up an address and send a text increases the risk of crashing by 600 to 2,300 per cent,” said Professor Tom Dingus, Director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
The paper, “Estimating Crash Risk: Accident data must be considered in the context of real-world driving if they are to lead to realistic preventive behavior,” by Dingus, Rich Hanowski, (Director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety) and Charlie Klauer has just received the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s 2012 Best Ergonomics in Design Article Award.
The researchers said that traditional types of research and crash statistics did not provide enough information to show the ways drivers could manage distractions, such as cell phone use, to reduce fatalities and injuries on our roads.
While research using test tracks or driving simulators can determine the impact of distractions on driving performance, they don’t provide good information on whether drivers will crash more and to what degree, the researchers explained.
Population studies and crash statistics are also limited; because, they do not show what a driver was doing leading up to a crash and drivers and eye witnesses are unreliable, they said.
“The driver could have been doing a number of tasks with the cell phone, only one of which is a conversation. It is clear from decades of empirical driving research that a cell phone is used for many tasks that are likely more risky than talking,” lead researcher Professor Dingus said.
Based on the principle that driver behaviour and performance needed to be understood in real life driving environments, the researchers used the results of several naturalistic driving studies.
Professor Dingus’ research has challenged traditional thinking about the causes of crashes, in particular a ground-breaking 100-Car Naturalistic Study that closely analysed the everyday driving of 241 people for more than a year resulting in 43,000 hours and 3,200,000 kilometres of driving data.
Unobtrusive video cameras, eye trackers, and sensors were installed in the cars of participants to gauge the impacts of fatigue and distractions.
“Although there is some risk that drivers will modify their behavior because of the presence of the instrumentation, several analyses have shown that any measurable changes in performance or behavior disappear after a few hours or days,” Professor Dingus said.
In regard to distractions, the researchers found that the most dangerous tasks required a driver to look away from the road.
“Most of the [higher risk] tasks require multiple steps to complete and multiple glances away from the road,” Professor Dingus said. “Listening and talking on cell phones while driving is not particularly risky.”
“In contrast, the tasks that we should focus heavily on correcting are the less frequent and newer cell phone tasks of texting, typing, reading, dialing, and reaching for a phone.”
To minimise the risks of distractions the researchers recommended that vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers need to focus on minimizing visual-manual interaction with devices and thereby minimizing eyes-off-road time – such as the use of auditory and voice recognition interfaces.
He also advised manufacturers of cell phones to integrate them (via Bluetooth or wireless) to interact seamlessly with an in-vehicle interface and to introduce driving or in car modes which simply lock out all the most complex features of cell phones while a vehicle is in motion.
Finally he said the public needs to be informed of the relative risks of the various tasks that are commonly accomplished in a moving vehicle.
“Consumers will modify their behavior if they understand the risks and have reasonable alternatives. In contrast, blanket messages that communicate that ‘all distraction is bad’ are ineffective and unrealistic,” Professor Dingus said.
“Texting bans are appropriate (and) handheld cell phone bans – particularly as applied to smartphones – may be necessary.”
“Total cell phone bans that include true hands-free voice input-output devices are unwarranted,” he said.