How Well Do You Drive While Texting?

January 04, 2010 1 min read

I’m constantly amazed at how many texting drivers I see during my 15-mile commute between work and home. All the news reports, research studies, and public service campaigns warning of the dangers of using texting devices or being otherwise distracted while driving seem to have had little affect.

Since high school students tend to be prominent among the offenders, education can play a role in changing perceptions about the relative risk of behaviors like driving while texting, just as it has about drunk driving. The New York Times has an interesting package on distracted driving that includes a recent video report and a game that illustrate how distractions can impair drivers. The video highlights an experiment in which participants go through a simulated driving test and are asked to complete routine tasks, such as get off at a particular exit or maintain a safe distance from the car in front of them. When the drivers use their cellphones during the test they miss their exits, ignore directions, and are even 8-times more likely to get into accidents.

The game is designed to gauge a driver’s reaction time when confronted with various distractions. As the car moves toward a series of toll booths, the driver must aim for the one with its gate up. After a few seconds a cellphone becomes visible on the right side of the screen with a text message from the Times. As you’re trying to answer the question—what kind of pie do you want?—the gates flash by. It’s seemingly impossible to go through the right one.

Over the holidays, I talked with several family members—both teenagers and adults—who boasted about their texting habits and how prolific and efficient they are in sending messages while doing other things. The game, the video, and a growing body of research would likely prove their perceptions of efficiency false.

But are the serial texters listening? And what role should schools play in educating students about the dangers of driving while texting?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.