Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
Three new university studies suggest that texting while behind the wheel is far and away more dangerous than using a cell phone while driving.
Two of the studies were conducted by Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute and one was conducted by the University of Utah. All three received prominent coverage this week in The New York Times.
Previous studies have shown that drivers using cell phones are four times as apt to cause an accident as drivers who are not distracted. In contrast, the Virginia Tech studies show that drivers who send text messages are 23 times as apt to cause an accident.
One of its studies used real-time driving by more than 100 truckers to reach its conclusion. The truckers were videotaped over 18 months. Researchers, who noted that the truckers were fairly typical of all drivers who text while driving, said the videos showed that an average of nearly five seconds was spent looking at texting devices just before a crash or near crash.
The other Virginia Tech study focused more on teenagers and conventional vehicles. As the Times reported, preliminary results show the risk levels for the teen texters and the truckers were “roughly comparable.”
The University of Utah study on texting while driving was based on the behaviors of university students operating driving simulators. The 18-month study’s preliminary conclusion is that texting drivers are eight times as apt as other drivers to have an accident. Though that risk factor is not as high as in the Virginia Tech studies, it is double that of drivers using cell phones.
In survey results released Monday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 80 percent of motorists rated distracted driving as a very serious threat to their safety, yet 21 percent of them “admitted to reading or sending a text message or e-mail while driving in the past month.”
This is the kind of thoughtless behavior that drivers must learn to end — and that state legislators should ban. It takes only a moment of distraction for tragedy to strike.