The Effects of Texting on Driving
Distracted driving is increasingly becoming the greatest health concern due to its central role in today’s road accidents. Distracted driving includes any activity capable of diverting a driver’s attention. These include use of cell phone or any other device, eating or drinking, talking to passengers, or changing music. In the present age of technology, phone use is the leading form of distracted driving, which is responsible for numerous deaths and critical injuries that leave other victims disabled. However, text driving is considered the most dangerous form of distraction because it utilizes cognitive, physical, and visual capabilities of a driver. Since cell phones became popular, the effects of phone distraction particular texting on driving have been widely studied. Using various studies, this paper explores the effects of texting on driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at any given time, 11% of drivers are manipulating a handheld device while driving (Caird et al., 2014). In 2011, NHTSA reported that distracted driving contributed to 10% of all driver fatalities and 17% of the critical injuries in the America. WHO (as cited in Caird et al., 2014) also revealed that individuals aged 15 – 19 years constituted the highest proportion of distracted drivers same year. Distracted driving is a worldwide phenomenon. In 2011, WHO (as in Caird et al., 2014) reported that incidences of distracted driving ranged from 1% to 11% depending on the country. While most studies have reported that young drivers are more likely to be impacted by distractions, other researchers have suggested that older drivers (over 50 years old) have a higher likelihood of being distracted compared to younger ones. For instance, Strayer & Drews (as cited in Rumschlag et al., 2014), revealed that drivers above 65 years old were distracted at a similar degree as younger, less experienced drivers (18-25 years old). Various studies including Neyens & Boyle and Hosking & Young (as cited in Rumschlag et al., 2014) have documented the growing number of accidents related to texting while driving. Also, most of the studies have concentrated solely on young drivers since they are generally less experienced and are influenced by the mainstream use of technological devices. CTIA (as cited in Rumschlag et al., 2014) explained that young people text while driving because they see older drivers doing the same. Considering the prevalence of texting while driving in this era, it is important to discuss its impact on driving.
In 2014, Rumschlag et al. conducted a study to examine the impact of texting on driving performance with a special focus on driver age. The study also evaluated the role of driver gender and text skill level, as well as texting duration. It featured over 18 year-old unpaid volunteers from Wayne State University. 27 of the population were female while 23 were male, with a mean of 18± years of driving experience. Texting skills were self reported in measures of limited, good, or skilled. The participants were seated in a driving simulator with three forward projection screens that provided a 150° field view of the simulated roadway with no oncoming traffic. Data was harvested from simulator computers and sorted into 30 seconds before texting, the texting duration, and 30 seconds after texting. Lane excursion was tracked every time the car moved outside the driving lane. The study revealed that texting while driving significantly increases lane excursion in the driving simulator. The results were consistent with previous studies that established that texting distracts driving simulator performance. Driver age was a strong predictor of the possibility of lane excursion, the number of lane excursions, and the duration of texting. Among the skilled texters, results revealed that the percentage of lane excursions increased with age. Only 25% of 18-24 year old skilled texters exhibited lane excursions while all 45 year old and above drivers exhibited lane excursions (Rumschlag et al., 2014). The results are inconsistent with the existing literature that holds that younger drivers are more likely to be distracted by texting.
In another study, Caird et al. (2014) conducted a systematic review of the effect of texting on driving with an aim of improving traffic safety. The team searched for text and messaging studies from various databases. The 28 selected studies measured driving performance and utilized experimental methods, a baseline, and a control condition. Data on drivers response to emergency (eye movement, reaction time, detection, and collisions), speed maintenance, car following, and lane keeping was extracted from the selected studies and coded. Measures of multiple effects from the studies were averaged to maintain the independence of observations assumption. For drivers who typed and read, measures of eye movement, reaction time and lateral positioning were large. Similarly, the scores for collisions, detection, headway, and speed were moderate to large. Reading messages produced relatively smaller measures compared to typing, reading, or both typing and reading.
Contrary to the above studies that used a safety approach, the third study examined the effect of texting on driving from a traffic operations perspective. Stavrinos et al. (2013) aimed to examine the association between distracted driving and traffic flow. The researchers hypothesized that distracted driving like texting would lead to traffic congestion. The study featured 75 participants aged 16 – 25. Virtual driving simulators were used across free flow, stable flow, and oversaturation. Participants then drove three times in the simulator, each period lasting 30 minutes to measure traffic flow when texting, when with cell phone, and when undistracted. Data acquired was used to measure the total number of cars the driver passed, the driving speed, fluctuation in speed, and lane excursion. Consistent with the hypothesis, the results indicated that when distracted, drivers slowed down the driving speed and significantly varied the driving speed. Similarly, distraction caused lane excursions.
Results from the three studies indicate the safety and traffic effect of texting on driving. Caird et al. (2014) revealed that texting while driving diminishes the drivers’ attention on the roadway, which can lead to poor response to hazards or poor control of the car. This is because texting, a driver completely switches his/her concentration and sight to the phone. Rumschlag et al. (2014) indicated that texting while driving leads to frequent lane excursions, which is a threat to road safety. Contrary to the existing knowledge, Rumschlag and the team also revealed that younger drivers are less likely to exhibit lane excursions when distracted, ruling out the younger age factor in the issue of texting and driving. Lastly, Stavrinos et al. (2013) demonstrated how distraction, including texting, can slow the flow of traffic.
The meta-analysis of three studies revealed the negative effects of texting on driving performance. Phone use is a popular form of distracted driving, which is accountable for increased number of road accidents today. Texting is the most dangerous distraction since the activity diverts the driver’s physical, visual, and cognitive abilities and therefore, poses a great threat to road safety. The featured studies have revealed that texting diminishes a driver’s attention on the road, increasing the possibility of accidents. Furthermore, typing and reading pose a higher safety risk. Drivers who text are also more likely to change lanes often and slow down their driving speed. Lane excursions can easily lead to accidents while reduced driving speed lead to traffic congestion. Since texting affects driving performance, it is important to avoid using the phone when driving to ensure road safety.
Caird, J.K., Johnston, K.A., Willness, C.r., Asbridge, M. & Steel, P. (2014, June 29). A meta-analysis on the effect of texting on driving. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 71, 311-318. (source provided).
Rumschlag, G., Palumbo, T., Martin, A., Head, D., George, R., & Commissaris, R.L. (2014, Oct 31). The effect of texting on driving performance in a driving simulator: The influence of driver age. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 74, 145-149. (Source provided)
Starvrinos, D., Garner, A.A., Franklin, C.A., Ball, D., Ball, K.K., Sisiopiku, V.P. & Fine, P.R. (2013, Dec). Accident Analysis and Prevention, 61, 63-70. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e98a/2bc9b6997f3aad37c0b944438ac7f122a1c5.pdf (the client had sent two similar sources so I replaced one)