According to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the time it takes to send a text while driving at 55mph is long enough to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
But is texting worse than any other distraction you might encounter while driving?
A team of researchers put that question to the test. They recruited 59 volunteers and asked them all to drive the same segment of highway four times.
- In one instance, the participants concentrated solely on driving.
- In another, they drove while distracted with challenging questions.
- There was also an occasion where the drivers were distracted with emotionally charged questions.
- Additionally, each participant took the drive while preoccupied with texting.
To avoid bias, the order of the drives was randomized.
In all three of the test interventions—absent minded, emotional and texting—the driver’s handling of the vehicle became jittery.
However, in only one instance did those jitters result in lane deviations and unsafe driving: while texting. (In the absent-minded and emotionally charged distractions, the drivers continued on straighter trajectories.)
The researchers attribute this to a specific part of the brain that automatically intervenes to correct errors when there’s a conflict. However, to perform this function it needs support from the driver’s eye-hand coordination.
When this hand/eye loop breaks, as it does when a driver texts, the jittery handling of the steering wheel is left unchecked. This can result in lane deviation, and possibly an accident.
“The driver’s mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course,” says lead researcher Ioannis Pavlidis.
“What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense. Self-driving cars may bypass this and other problems, but the moral of the story is that humans have their own auto systems that work wonders, until they break.”
SOURCE: A sixth sense protects drivers except when texting. News Release. University of Houston. May 2016.