Texting and driving don’t mix … or do they?

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Texting while driving is really dangerous, right? If you said no, you’re not alone. A new study finds that a surprisingly high percentage of drivers don’t see texting while driving as something that’s always dangerous. Sixty-eight percent of participants reported needing a lot of convincing to believe in the dangers of texting and driving.

“Drivers are not good at identifying where it is safe to use their phone, it is safer for drivers to just pull over in an appropriate place to use their phone quickly and then resume their journey,” said Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, M.D., a researcher at Australia Queensland University of Technology.

People who text while driving are six times more likely to be involved in a car crash. To combat this problem, more and more states are adopting driving laws that require people to use hands-free devices in the car. Yet the study conducted by Oviedo-Trespalacios and colleagues found that many drivers are still willing to take the risk, as “fear of missing out” and separation anxiety keep them from abiding by the law.

The study, published in Risk Analysis: An International Journal, reveals that many drivers simply don’t perceive texting and driving to be dangerous in certain driving scenarios.

The researchers found that drivers engage in self-regulation when deciding whether to use their phones while driving. That’s a process through which individuals develop strategies to cope with environmental factors while hoping to maintain a high level of performance. For example, many drivers make use of stops to initiate using their mobile device, and many are able to restrain themselves to using phones only while stopped at intersections with signals.

Contributing factors

Many other researchers have also noted that drivers usually restrict engagement in heavy traffic or along curved sections of both urban and rural roads. This study sought to identify what factors contribute to self-regulation.

In the study, 447 drivers in South East Queensland, Australia, answered questions about perceived crash risk, perceived driving comfort, perceived driving difficulty, perceived driving ability, perceived likelihood of engaging in a voice call and perceived likelihood of engaging in texting.

The authors concluded that females are more likely than males to engage in mobile phone use while driving. More experienced drivers are less likely to engage in distracted driving. Results show that as the number of years with license increase, the probability of participating in distracted driving decreases, and drivers who are less inhibited are more likely to drive distracted.

The researchers also found that drivers who hold the following beliefs are more likely to use a mobile device while driving:

  • effects on driver are minor;
  • I need a lot of convincing to believe it is dangerous;
  • effects will last after the task is finished.

Demanding traffic conditions and the presence of law enforcement were reported as effective measures in reducing the likelihood of distracted driving. These results support high-visibility police enforcement programs as a means to combat distracted driving.

One quarter of crashes

In the U.S., mobile phone usage has been a factor in one quarter of all car collisions. However, actual crash risks vary based on the type of task being performed and the extent of its cognitive and physical demands on the driver. Talking on a mobile device increases crash risk by 2.2 times whereas texting increases risk by 6.1 times.

Observational studies have found that as many as 18 percent of drivers in high-income countries, and up to 31 percent in low- and middle-income countries, use their mobile devices while on the road, contributing to significantly reduced road safety. Despite laws prohibiting such behavior, mobile phone use while driving is expected to increase.

About the Author

Truman Lewis
Truman has been a bureau chief and correspondent in D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, reporting for radio, television, print and news services, for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has reported extensively on health and consumer issues for ConsumerAffairs.com and FairfaxNews.com.