April 26, 2010

Texting While Driving Poses Same Dangers as Drunken Driving

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BATON ROUGE, La. (April 26, 2010)--The dangers of driving while intoxicated are well documented. Alcohol plays a role in approximately 39 percent of vehicle-related deaths in the United States each year. However, there is another habit that is just as dangerous if not more--texting while driving--and it is happening in Louisiana despite a law making it illegal.

"No message you have to send by text is so important that it's worth ending another human being's life," says Mike Page, Director of Safety and Loss Prevention for Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corporation (LWCC). "Imagine the guilt of waking up every morning for the rest of your life knowing that your act of sending a text message while driving resulted in someone's death."

Mounting research and the growing number of vehicle-related deaths from distracted driving have vaulted texting while driving from a mere concern to a full-blown societal outcry. In 19 states, including Louisiana, there is a ban on text messaging for all drivers. Six states have a complete ban on handheld cell phone use in an automobile. Legislators are being fueled by some stunning studies and media experiments.

The results of a study by the University of Utah, a recognized authority in the research of distracted driving, were released in the December 2009 issue of Human Factors. The study determined that "motorists who write text messages while driving are six times more likely to crash than those who don't text while driving." That is a jarring statistic--especially when you put those findings alongside results found three years earlier by the same University of Utah researchers. In 2006, it was learned that motorists talking on handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers. The risk of crashing from such behavior was 5.6 times greater than for the undistracted driver.

"Driving an automobile is the most hazardous activity people do every day," Page says. "It is alarming to realize that 20 percent of all drivers send or receive e-mails while driving, and 66 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds text or e-mail while behind the wheel."

An insightful experiment last summer by automobile magazine Car and Driver, though not scientific, graphically illustrated how the reaction times of two staffers were affected when they were texting while driving, reading while driving, and driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. Not surprisingly, the drivers impaired by alcohol reacted more slowly than when they were sober. But on average, the reaction time was even worse when they were texting or reading.

It echoed a 2008 study by the Transport Research Laboratory in England, which determined that the reaction time of motorists sending text messages was 35 percent slower than that of nondistracted drivers. The reaction time of drunk drivers was 12 percent slower.

The only known results from a real-world study of distracted driving, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, found that "truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near-crash event" than those who were not distracted while driving. In addition, data compiled in 2009 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed that out of every six-second interval, a driver texting had his eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. In that amount of time a vehicle can travel the distance of a football field at 55 mph.

LWCC has taken an active role in informing policyholders about the importance of safe driving through its Virtual Driver Interactive simulation tool, which allows students to experience behind-the-wheel situations on a windshield-shaped computer monitor. It has become the Safety and Loss Prevention department's most requested service. The curriculum includes simulations for distracted driving, impaired driving, vehicle hazards, speeding risks, avoiding head-on collisions, and following large vehicles.

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