Dri­ver dis­trac­tion while tex­ting

Texting while driving has increased in recent years and is expected to further increase. Previous research demonstrated negative effects of texting while driving on driving performance and a higher risk for accidents and near accidents. However in previous studies participants were usually requested to carry out texting while driving at certain times even if they would not have done that in a real traffic situation.

Therefore, the Chemnitz University of Technology on behalf of the German Insurers Accident Research carried out several studies to investigate:

  • under which circumstances do drivers text while driving,
  • what is the impact on normal driving behavior and
  • what is the impact on their reactions in critical situations.

Literature analysis, a reanalysis of a large scale naturalistic driving data set and a video-based interview study revealed that drivers text while driving more often in less complex and foreseeable driving situation. In a subsequent driving simulator study such driving situations were implemented. Four types of texting were investigated: 1) typing and 2) reading from a hand-held device, 3) voiced based texting and 4) voice based reading using a touch display in the middle of the dashboard. 82 mainly young participants took part in the experiment. They were experienced in driving and texting while driving.

As a result there are hardly any differences in neither overall driving performance nor the reactions to critical situations between driver’s texting while driving and a control group. Only typing on a hand-held device was related to somewhat slower reactions and more accidents and near accidents in some driving situations. That is somewhat surprising given the large evidence of negative effects of texting while driving on driving performance. It may be that the demands of the driving situations were too low for the drivers in the control group. Consequently they may have been absent-minded as well, but for other reasons.

Currently most drivers experience no negative consequences when texting while driving. Therefore they continue texting while driving. Even though they may consider the traffic situation to some extent, texting while driving may develop into a habit which is carried out also in more complex traffic situations. Effective road safety campaigns needs to break these habits or to prevent them from developing.

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