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Teen Drivers and Texting While Driving

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Connectivity in the car is not that safe, studies conclude

When the technology doesn't work perfectly it can be highly distracting

Carmakers have, in recent years, spent a lot of effort beefing up their entertainment systems, adding bluetooth connectivity to allow streaming from smartphones, as well as hands-free communication.

Consumers have reacted with approval. New car sales continue to rise each month and improved in-cabin technology may be one reason. But not everyone approves.

“Even though your car may be configured to support social media, texting and phone calls, it doesn’t mean it is safe to do so,” said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. “The primary task should be driving. Things that take your attention away make you a poor driver and make the roads less safe.”

Strayer and other researchers have studied these new systems to determine if they reduce distracted driving, or add to it.

Most distracting

One study found that using your voice to make phone calls and tune the radio with Chevrolet’s MyLink system distracted drivers the most. Mercedes’ COMMAND system, MyFord Touch and Chrysler’s UConnect were better, but all diverted attention more than a cell phone conversation, the study found.

Toyota’s Entune got the highest marks as least distracting. The researchers said using it took as much attention as listening to an audio book. Hyundai’s Blue Link was found to be a bit more distracting, but less than talking with a passenger.

In another study – both were sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety – researchers looked at how drivers use iPhone's Siri. They conclude that using voice commands to interact with the phone was more distracting than any other voice-activated technology – even when it was modified for use as a hands-free, eyes-free device so drivers kept their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

The problem, it seems, is the attention required to operate voice-activated technology, especially when it doesn't always respond correctly.

Making it worse

“We are concerned we may be making distraction problems worse by going to voice-activated technology, especially if it’s not easy to use,” Strayer said.

But Strayer harbors no illusions that automakers are about to return to a time before connectivity and voice controls. His point, however, is that these systems need to be made as safe as possible.

The studies both conclude that the most advanced technology, like Siri, can in reality be highly distracting when you drive. For example, as these systems get to be more complex, sending text messages or posting to Facebook requires more mental capacity from the user. If the user happens to be driving, it can be dangerous.

“Technologies used in the car that rely on voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The level of distraction and the impact on safety can vary tremendously based on the task or the system the driver is using.”

Previous research classified listening to the radio as a Category 1 distraction – the lowest. Talking on a cell phone, either hand-held or hands-free, is considered a Category 2 distraction. Using a speech-to-text system, to listen to or compose emails or texts is a Category 3 distraction.

In April the National Safety Council raised similar concerns about cars' entertainment systems. David Teater, senior director of Transportation Initiatives at the National Safety Council, said at the time that the brain doesn't truly multi-task. Just as you can't read a book and talk on the phone, you can't safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone, he says.

Carmakers have, in recent years, spent a lot of effort beefing up their entertainment systems, adding bluetooth connectivity to allow streaming from smartp...
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Teens say parents text, talk on phone and drive recklessly

It's not just teens who are often reckless behind the wheel, study finds

It will soon be back-to-school time and teens will be exhorted to practice safe driving habits -- to hang up the phone, forget about texting, wear seat belts and so forth.

But a new survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) finds that parents are often the biggest offenders -- and says that teens speak up about their parents’ risky driving behaviors but parents don’t always listen.

“While parents may think they’re setting a good example for their teens, these findings suggest that some parents engage in unsafe driving habits more often than they might admit,” said Dave Melton, driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety. “Research shows that teens often replicate their parents’ poor driving behaviors, so it’s critical for the safety of everyone on the road that parents be a model for responsible driving whenever they are behind the wheel.”

Parents’ behavior

According to the survey, parents actually admit to engaging in many of the same dangerous -- and in some cases, illegal -- driving behaviors that they warn their own children against, often at alarmingly high rates:

  • Talking on cell phone while driving: 86%
  • Speeding: 80%
  • Texting and driving: 40%
  • Driving after consuming alcohol: 34%
  • Driving without a seat belt: 21%

The data also reveals that the majority (83%) of teens say their parents engage in unsafe driving behaviors with them in the car, sometimes at higher rates than their parents like to admit. For example, 58% of teens say they have witnessed their parents texting and driving, and 41% have observed their parents driving without a seat belt.

Teens speak up

Teens are not only taking note of their parents’ risky driving behaviors, they are making concerted efforts to change them. Of the teens surveyed, 60% report they have asked their parents to put an end to dangerous driving habits, with texting and driving being the most common concern among teens (42%).

Similarly, the majority of parents admit that their teens are speaking up:

  • 40% say their teen has asked them to stop driving without a seat belt;
  • 33% say their teen has asked them to stop texting and driving;
  • 26% say their teen has asked them to stop speeding; and
  • 23% say their teen has asked them to stop posting social media updates while driving.

According to the survey data, parents may not be taking these requests to heart. While the majority (84%) of parents say they change their driving behaviors when asked, nearly half (41%) of teens report that parents do not.

It will soon be back-to-school time and teens will be exhorted to practice safe driving habits -- to hang up the phone, ...
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Safety group attacks hands-free cell use behind the wheel

But consumers assume cars' built-in hands-free function makes it safe

Late-model cars usually have Bluetooth connectivity so that cell phones can be used hands-free. It's considered a safety feature by most drivers.

But is it? The National Safety Council doesn't think so. It cites more than 30 studies it says demonstrate that hands-free devices are no safer than hand-held, as the brain remains distracted by the cell phone conversation.

But if you ask most people, they'll tell you that the hands-free feature makes talking on a cell phone safer behind the wheel. In fact a recent National Safety Council poll shows 80% of consumers consider talking hands-free to be safe.

"While many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device, it's just not true," said David Teater, senior director of Transportation Initiatives at the National Safety Council. "The problem is the brain does not truly multi-task. Just like you can't read a book and talk on the phone, you can't safely operate a vehicle and talk on the phone.”

Confused

Part of the confusion, says Teater, stems from state laws. While a dozen states have outlawed driving and talking on a handset, the laws don't outlaw hands-free devices.

“No wonder people are confused," he said.

But a 2013 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is not quite so clear-cut. It finds that the main risk of cellphone use in the car is when hands-free use evolves into hand-held functions, what it calls visual-manual (VM) functions.

“VM subtasks are a concern because they require drivers to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the steering wheel to be performed,” the authors write. “Newer cell phone interfaces have been designed to simplify use by allowing drivers to initiate and end calls with voice commands or with a single button press.”

Easier to text

But the NHTSA report concedes that using these hands-free features has made it easier for drivers to use their phones for other purposes – like texting.

“There is a growing subset of the population whose primary goal of cell phone use is text messaging,” the report warns.

The NHTSA study looked at distraction-affect crashes that claimed 3,092 lives. Of those, 408 people – 13% – were killed in crashes in which at least one driver was using a cellphone.

Researchers for AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety say even technology that allows a driver to dictate a text without using their fingers or looking at the device has dangers of its own. Their study found that mentally-distracted drivers miss visual cues, have slower reaction times, and even exhibit a sort of tunnel vision.

Carmakers' position

As for carmakers, they don't claim that their built-in hands-free technology is completely safe. For example, Toyota says that the safest choice is to avoid cell phone conversations while driving, but adds its hands-free features “may be the next best thing.”

The National Safety Council isn't pleased with the trend of carmakers equipping their dashboard infotainment systems to allow drivers to make hands-free calls as well as send text messages, email and update social media statuses.

It believes it sends the wrong message to consumers, pointing to its poll results showing 53% of respondents believe hands-free devices must be safe to use if they are built into vehicles as Exhibit A.

Late model cars usually have Bluetooth connectivity so that cell phones can be used hands-free. It's considered a safety feature by most drivers.But is i...
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Insurance industry worries about older drivers with smartphones

It's not just young adults and teens who are getting the blame

In any conversation about distracted driving – especially texting behind the wheel – it is almost always in the context of youthful drivers. After all, they're the ones addicted to their smartphones, right?

Not so fast. Increasingly it appears that a growing number of those heads glancing down at smartphone screens behind the wheel have gray hair. Older drivers are quickly catching up with young drivers when it comes to staying connected while driving.

And it's not just texting. A July 2013 survey by State Farm Insurance found a big jump in the percentage of drivers who own smartphones, particularly among drivers age thirty and older. At the same time the percentage of drivers who access the Internet on their phone while driving has nearly doubled over the past five years, going up from 13% in 2009 to 24% in 2013.

More hands-free talking

The survey results also showed the use of hands-free cell phones while driving has increased, while the percentage of people talking on a hand-held cell phone or texting while driving has become stagnant over the past three years.

This may be due, in part, to the growing number of new cars that have a Bluetooth connection. With this system, a driver may answer a call and carry on a conversation simply by pushing a button on the steering wheel, without removing the phone from a pocket or a purse.

While there has been research that suggests talking on a hands-free phone is also distracting, the same could be said for a driver conversing with passengers. It's all a matter of degree. But it's the growing presence of electronic gadgets among drivers that keeps insurance agents up at night.

Multiple distractions

"As smart phone ownership increases for all age groups, the safety community must ensure we are keeping pace with our understanding of the types of distractions drivers face," said Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm. "Much attention is paid toward reducing texting while driving, but we must also be concerned about addressing the growing use of multiple mobile web services while driving."

While 86% of drivers age 18-29 have smartphones, the new data shows 64% of drivers age 50 to 64 do as well, a 20% jump in two years. Even 39% of drivers 65 and older now have smartphones, the survey found.

Distracted driving is a major concern for the insurance industry, which profits when there are fewer accidents. But while most concede that texting while driving is very dangerous, it's less clear that simply talking and driving is.

Questioning conventional wisdom

Another study from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, also conducted this year, finds that talking on a phone while driving does not increase the risk of a crash. 

For the study, Carnegie Mellon's Saurabh Bhargava and the London School of Economics and Political Science's Vikram S. Pathania examined calling and crash data from 2002 to 2005, a period when most cell phone carriers offered pricing plans with free calls on weekdays after 9 p.m. They compared data from mobile network operators and accident reports and found that there was no direct correlation between the number of phone calls made during a certain time period and the number of crashes during the same time.

"Using a cell phone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined," said Bhargava, who is an assistant professor of social and decision sciences at CMU. "While our findings may strike many as counterintuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature. Our study differs from most prior work in that it leverages a naturally occurring experiment in a real-world context."

For its part, State Farm is encouraging government agencies to continue their high profile campaign against distracted driving, which specifically targets electronic gadgets.

"State Farm continues to support a multi-pronged approach to encouraging more engaged driving," Mullen said. "Legislation, enforcement, education and technology all have a role to play in making our roads safer for all who share them."

In any conversation about distracted driving – especially texting behind the wheel – it is almost always in the context of youthful drivers. Af...
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Graduated driver licensing may present a false sense of security

Parents and their children give different answers on safety survey

All states have toughened requirements for young people to get behind the wheel. The most popular form of this is the graduated driver licensing (GDL) law, which is an experience-based method of training – and licensing – novice drivers.

Parents might sleep better at night knowing their teen is having to go through a series of steps before becoming a fully licensed driver and therefore, will be safer on the road. But there may be a major disconnect between that assumption and reality.

A new survey conducted for State Farm Insurance found that parents over-estimate two key provisions of GDL laws – nighttime driving and passenger restrictions. Most GDL laws, for example, severely restrict teen drivers from driving when it is dark. They also restrict the number of teen passengers who can be in the car.

Big disconnect

In the survey, 69% of parents said they believed their teens almost always followed the nighttime restrictions. But only 48% of the teen drivers questioned said they almost always followed those restrictions.

GDL laws restrict the number of passengers who can ride with a novice driver, in the belief that a car full of noisy and rambunctious teens can prove to be a deadly distraction for someone just learning to drive. In the survey, 70% of parents said they believed their children almost always followed this rule but only 43% of GDL drivers said they complied.

“GDL laws are effective tools in reducing the crash risk of new drivers,” said Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm. “Passenger and nighttime restrictions are essential to any successful GDL law. It is concerning to see a majority of teens admit not adhering to these laws; but perhaps more concerning to learn some parents may be unaware of their teen’s behaviors. We know through past research, parental involvement is key to keeping teens safe on our roadways.”

States have different rules

States began enacting GDL laws in the mid 1990s and all have them at this point. However, provisions vary state to state. 

For example, 37 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice GDL drivers, according to the Governors' Highway Safety Association. Forty-eight states and DC ban nighttime driving during the intermediate period. Forty-seven states and DC restrict the number of passengers during the intermediate phase.

New Jersey is the only state that requires a driver under age 21 and going through the GDL period to display a decal on their vehicle, identifying them as a GDL driver.

At the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been a major proponent of the GDL system. The agency notes that 16 to 17-year-olds are significantly over represented in fatal crashes.

Immaturity and inexperience

“Our research tells us that immaturity and inexperience are primary factors contributing to these deadly crashes by young drivers,” NHTSA says. “Three-stage GDL laws address these factors by reducing high-risk exposure for novice drivers.”

NHTSA says an analysis of traffic accident data shows that adopting GDL laws will lead to a substantial decrease in the number of crashes involving novice drivers – in some cases as much as 50%. But the State Farm survey suggests that observance of these tougher rules is far from universal.

That suggests parents need to closely monitor their children's vehicle use during the GDL period. Parents believe they are doing so. The survey found 87% saying they almost always monitor compliance.

Their children, however, tell a different story. The survey found only 56% believe their parents were monitoring their activities behind the wheel. Despite the disconnect, GDL laws appear to be working. The accident trend over the last two decades has been moving in the right direction.

“More still needs to be done to save lives,” said Kendell Poole, Chairman, Governors Highway Safety Association. “Parents play a key role in enforcing and monitoring GDL laws and helping teens become safe drivers. Parents should not rely solely on GDL to instill good driving habits. They have to step up as well.”

All states have toughened requirements for young people to get behind the wheel. The most popular form of this is the graduated driver licensing (GDL)law, ...
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Survey: Distracted walking problem getting worse

People know they shouldn't, but do it anyway

Think about it. Five years ago smartphones were a rarity. People did not walk while texting, emailing or surfing the Internet.

Now, of course, they do and “distracted walking” may be as big a safety issue as distracted driving. In a new survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance 60% of pedestrians admit they walk while texting, emailing, talking on the phone, or listening to music. Seventy percent said they consider those behaviors to be dangerous. Yet they do it anyway.

Liberty Mutual says these distractions may have been a contributing factor in the 4,280 pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents in 2010, a four percent increase from the previous year, as reported in the latest data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Forgetting what we learned as kids

"So much attention has been paid, and rightly so, to distracted driving that we have ignored the fact that distracted walking and crossing can be just as risky," said David Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety. "From an early age, we all learn how to safely cross the street – look both ways, wait for the walk sign – but as adults many of us seem to forget those simple rules."

It's easy to forget when you are reading an email or trying to concentrate on sending a text. Why do pedestrians engage in activity they know to be dangerous to themselves and others?

Technology has granted us the ability to communicate instantly, no matter where we are. This didn't exist just a decade ago. But just because we can communicate instantly doesn't mean we should.

Extension of our brains

Some think that smartphones have become extensions of our brains. When we receive a message from a friend, we just naturally want to respond immediately. It is as though the person was walking down the street with us. If they ask a question, we don't wait until we reach our destination to reply. But in this case, we should.

A 2012 observational study published in the journal Injury Prevention found that nearly one in three pedestrians is distracted by their mobile phone or other electronic device while crossing busy intersections. Texting was judged most distracting but other non-electronic distractions were also noted.

Those classified as distracted took significantly longer to cross the road – as much as 1.3 seconds longer. Texting was judged the riskiest behavior. The researchers said people who were texting took almost two seconds longer to cross the average intersection of three to four lanes than those who weren't texting at the time.

In 2011 a Pennsylvania woman sued a Reading, Pa., shopping mall after an accident. According to police reports she was texting while walking through the shopping center when she tripped and fell into a fountain. Video of the mishap went viral on YouTube, but safety officials say there is no humor in the problem. People who aren't paying attention while they walk are a danger to themselves and others, they say.

ER personnel see the results

In 2011 about 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. for injuries suffered while walking and using a cellphone or some other electronic device, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It was a 400% increase over the past seven years and coincided, not surprisingly, with the explosive growth in smartphones.

According to the Liberty Mutual Insurance Pedestrian Safety Survey findings, both pedestrians and drivers say they realize the dangers of their actions, but they don't change their behavior.

"The reality is that neither drivers nor pedestrians seem to actually realize the dangers of their distracted behaviors," said Melton. "The fact that drivers and pedestrians continue to engage in dangerous habits, despite claiming to recognize the risk, suggests that the majority of Americans are taking a cavalier, 'it won't happen to me' attitude. As the weather warms up and we head into the summer driving season, pedestrians and drivers need to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone on the roads, whether on foot or behind the wheel."

Think about it. Five years ago smartphones were a rarity. People did not walk while texting, emailing or surfing the Internet.Now, of course, they do and...
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Safety regulators issue guidelines to limit distracted driving

The voluntary guidelines only apply to devices installed in cars by the manufacturer

The feds have had it with electronic devices that distract drivers, so much so that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today released voluntary guidelines that call on automobile manufacturers to disable distracting gadgets unless the vehicle is stopped.

"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," said LaHood. "These guidelines recognize that today's drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need."

According to federal data, 3,331 people died in distracted-driving accidents in 2011, up from 3,092 in 2010. Another 387,000 people were injured in 2011 in crashes involving a distracted driver, vs. 416,000 in 2010.

Issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines establish specific criteria for devices that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes of the road to use them. The guidelines include recommendations to limit the time a driver must take his eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and twelve seconds total.

Put it in park

The guidelines also recommend disabling several operations unless the vehicle is stopped and in park, such as:

  • Manual text entry, including text messaging and internet browsing;
  • Video entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing;
  • Display text messages, web pages and social media content.

The guidelines only apply to built-in devices -- like the navigation units mounted in the dashboards of many of today's cars and the growing number of devices being offered on new cars.

New study identifies risks

The guidelines are based partly on a new NHTSA "naturalistic driving" study, which found tha tasks associated with handheld phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

"The new study strongly suggests that visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver's focus and increase the risk of getting into a crash up to three times," said David L. Strickland, NHTSA Administrator. "The new guidelines and our ongoing work with our state partners across the country will help us put an end to the dangerous practice of distracted driving by limiting the amount of time drivers take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and their attention away from the task of driving."

The study found text messaging, browsing, and dialing resulted in the longest duration of drivers' taking their eyes-off-road. Text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times and resulted in the driver's eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total. Visual-manual activities performed when completing a phone call – such as reaching for a phone, looking up a contact and dialing the number – increased the risk by three times.

Another study currently underway is examining the nation's highway system including speed, curves, intersection control, lighting, driver fatigue, and distraction, among others.

Ray LaHoodThe feds have had it with electronic devices that distract drivers, so much so that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today relea...
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Teen drivers tend to text more when they're alone in a car

Survey shows they do it, even though they know they shouldn't

It's hard to turn on TV and not see a public service announcement urging young drivers not to send or read texts while behind the wheel. The message may be getting through but it doesn't seemed to have altered behavior.

Bridgestone America commissioned a survey that found a huge disconnect between what teen drivers know to be responsible behavior and what they actually do. The survey of drivers ages 16-21 found 71% believe reading received emails while driving is unacceptable. But 45% admit to doing it. Eighty percent believe sending texts and emails while driving is unacceptable but 37% say they do it.

Disconnect

The survey uncovered another disconnect that gives safety experts hope that their message is starting to get through. While an overwhelming 95% of the young drivers in the survey admitted to reading texts and emails while driving alone, only 32% said they did when friends or parents were in the car. That suggests the drivers realize what they're doing is socially unacceptable behavior.

"The fact these actions are becoming socially unacceptable shows progress in the effort to raise awareness of the risks and consequences of distracted driving, but with this many teens admitting to engaging in the behavior privately, there is still much work to be done," said Angela Patterson, Manager, Teens Drive Smart Program, Bridgestone Americas.

True. Young drivers may know it's wrong but the fact remains that nearly all of them are texting and emailing while driving, a recipe for disaster. How, then, to get them to stop? No one has quite figured that out yet.

3,300 deaths

Drawing on extensive data, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that at any given “daylight moment” an estimated 660,000 drivers are either using their cell phones or trying to manipulate some kind of electronic device. The agency reports more than 3,300 deaths from distracted driving accidents in 2011 and 387,000 injuries.

“Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America’s roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “There is no way to text and drive safely. Powering down your cell phone when you’re behind the wheel can save lives – maybe even your own.”

The Department of Transportation is among the many organizations that have produced public service announcements to warn drivers – particularly young drivers – about the dangers of texting and driving.

States, meanwhile, have been in the forefront of cracking down on distracted driving. Ten states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws banning all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. In most states, the laws are primary enforcement, meaning a police officer may pull you over for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.

State laws are even stricter when it comes to texting. At least 39 states, plus D.C. and the U.S. territories, ban texting behind the wheel. Again, in most of the states the offense is primary enforcement.

Teen deaths rising

At a time when overall highways deaths are falling, the Governor's Highway Safety Association reported a 19 percent jump in highway deaths of 16- and 17 year-old drivers in the first six months of 2012. The concern is what role texting or other distractions might have played in those accidents.

This seems to be a particularly American problem. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests American young people are much more likely to talk or text while driving than their European peers.

For example, the study noted that 69% of young U.S. drivers admitted to talking on their phones while driving in the 30 days before the survey. That compares to only 21% in the United Kingdom.

The study also found that 31% of drivers in the U.S. reported that they had read or sent text messages or emails while driving, compared to 15% of drivers in Spain.

Fatal distraction

“The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “Driving and dialing or texting don’t mix. If you are driving, pull over to a safe place and stop before you use your cell phone.”

How distracting is it? A 2006 study at the University of Utah found that people talked on a cell phone while driving, they were as impaired as having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit of 0.08%.

So why do we keep doing it? The problem may be the seductive nature of mobile devices. People, especially young people, just can't seem to leave them alone.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland notes that, if you ask most drivers, they will agree that distracted driving is risky – for other drivers. What they lack, he says, is a realistic appreciation for how it puts them at risk when they do it.

What to do

If you are a parent of a teen driver, set a good example by not using your cell phone behind the wheel. Next, have a conversation with your teen about the dangers of distracted driving.

In fact, it's a good idea to require anyone behind the wheel, whether its an adult or a teen, to turn off their cell phone before starting the trip. If you're a passenger in a car and the driver starts to use their cell phone, speak up. Tell them it's a bad idea.

It's hard to turn on TV and not see a public service announcement urging young drivers not to send or read texts while behind the wheel. The message may be...
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Drivers still talking and texting

The risky conduct causes hundreds of thousand of injuries and deaths

You would think that with all the news stories about traffic accidents due to driver cell phone use and texting that people would finally figure out that it's not a particularly good idea. That doesn't seem to be happening.

According to the 2011 National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or some kind of electronic device while driving -- about the same as in 2010.

Separate NHTSA data show more than 3,300 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that most U.S. drivers say they talk on their cell phones and smartphones while driving, even though it isn't very smart. And a third of them also admit to texting while driving.

That's a higher figure than in comparable countries. CDC researchers found that 69 percent of U.S. drivers talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed compared to 21 percent of drivers from the United Kingdom. The study also found that 31 percent of drivers in the United States reported that they had read or sent text messages or emails while driving, compared  to 15 percent of drivers in Spain.

“Distracted driving is a serious and deadly epidemic on America’s roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “There is no way to text and drive safely. Powering down your cell phone when you’re behind the wheel can save lives -- maybe even your own.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website has more on the survey.

You would think that with all the news stories about traffic accidents due to driver cell phone use and texting that people would finally figure out that i...
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U.S. drivers more likely to be texting, talking than Europeans

Study finds "most" U.S. drivers talk while driving, one in three also text

What is everybody talking about? Lately it seems that nearly every car, truck and monster SUV is being driven by someone who has a phone plastered to their ear.

What can all these people be saying that is so important?

Well, we don't know but whatever it is, they spend a lot of time doing it. A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that most U.S. drivers say they talk on their cell phones and smartphones while driving, even though it isn't very smart. And a third of them also admit to texting while driving.

The study analyzed data from the U.S. and Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Researchers found that 69 percent of U.S. drivers talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed compared to 21 percent of drivers from the United Kingdom. The study also found that 31 percent of drivers in the United States reported that they had read or sent text messages or emails while driving, compared  to 15 percent of drivers in Spain.

“The cell phone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.  “Driving and dialing or texting don’t mix.  If you are driving, pull over to a safe place and stop before you use your cell phone.”

No gender difference

CDC researchers also looked specifically at U.S. drivers and found that in the 30 days before they were surveyed:

  • There were no significant differences between men and women in terms of cell phone use or reading or sending text or e-mail messages while driving.
  • A higher percentage of 25-44 year-old men and women reported talking on a cell phone while driving than those ages 55–64, and;
  • A higher percentage of 18-34 year-old men and women reported reading or sending text or e-mail messages while driving than those ages 45-64.

“Everyone, of every age and generation, has the ability to make a decision to drive distraction-free,” said Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “It’s especially risky for young, inexperienced drivers—who are already extremely vulnerable to crashes—to be distracted when they are behind the wheel. Answering a call or reading a text is never worth a loss of life.”

Many strategies have been applied to try to reduce distracted driving in the United States and other countries. These include law enforcement efforts, communication campaigns, vehicle and cell phone technologic advances, legislation, and safe driver education. Some strategies have been aimed specifically at high risk drivers such as teens and new drivers.

As of February 2013, 33 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place restricting at least some teens or new drivers from using cell phones while driving.

What is everybody talking about? Lately it seems that nearly every car, truck and monster SUV is being driven by someone who has a phone plastered to their...
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Teen driver deaths rise in 2012

Deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers up 19 percent

Although overall traffic fatalities are on the decline, that's not the case with younger drivers.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths in passenger vehicles increased dramatically for the first six months of 2012. Based on preliminary data supplied by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths increased from 202 to 240 -- a jump of 19 percent.

Alarming increase

The new report -- the first state-by-state look at teen driver fatalities in 2012 -- was completed by Dr. Allan Williams, a researcher who formerly served as chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Dr. Williams surveyed GHSA members, who reported fatality numbers for every state and D.C.

Deaths of 16-year-old drivers increased from 86 to 107 (a 24 percent change), while the number for 17-year-old drivers went from 116 to 133 (a 15 percent change), a cumulative increase of 19 percent. Twenty-five states reported increases, 17 had decreases, and eight states and the District of Columbia reported no change in the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths.

GDL laws may be a factor

Dr. Williams attributes much of the increase to the fact that the benefit of state Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws may be leveling off, as most of these laws have been in place for some time. Additionally, he speculates that improving economic conditions are contributing to an increase in teen driving, thus increasing their exposure to risk. “Based on 2011 final data and the early look at 2012,” he says, “it appears that we are headed the wrong direction when it comes to deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers.”

Dr. Williams stresses that while this is certainly not good news, deaths in this age group remain at a historically low level. “We are still at a much better place than we were ten or even five years earlier,” he notes. “However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year.”

Action urged

Kendell Poole, chairman of GHSA and director of Tennessee’s Governor’s Highway Safety Office, says any increase in highway deaths is unacceptable -- particularly among our teens. “We know from research and experience that teen drivers are not only a danger to themselves, but also a danger to others on the roadways. So these numbers are a cause for concern.” He pointed out. “As the report notes, a widespread strengthening of laws is still possible, and utilizing effective tools outside of GDL should be a focus. These include improving driver education and ensuring that scientifically based educational programs are available to new drivers.”

GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha stressed that while data are preliminary, she is concerned that signs point to a significant increase in 16- and-17-year-old driver deaths for 2012. She advises states to focus on strengthening GDL and programs that are data-driven, adding that states should consider implementing parent programs to help parents keep their teens safe. “Parents have a huge responsibility to ensure safe teen driving behavior,” she concludes, adding, “States can facilitate this by providing innovative programs that bring parents and teens together around this issue.”

Although overall traffic fatalities are on the decline, that's not the case with younger drivers. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports ...
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Parents Urged to Establish Rules of the Road for Teen Drivers

Feds note that parents serve as primary influences on teenage driving behavior

If you are the parent of a teen who is driving, you've no doubt spent some sleepless hours waiting for the car to pull into the driveway. But there's a lot you can do to increase the odds that your son or daughter makes it home safely.

As part of National Teen Driver Safety Week, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are urging parents and caregivers to set and enforce safe driving ground rules for their teens.

Parental involvement is a key component in the development of safe young drivers, and while the number of motor vehicle crashes has declined significantly in recent years, safe driving habits remain essential since crashes remain the leading cause of teen deaths in America.

Setting an example

"As a father of four, I know it may seem that children -- and teenagers in particular -- aren't always listening to what we say, but they are watching what we do," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "By highlighting the dangers associated with driving and reinforcing responsible driving habits and decision making, parents can help mold their teens into safe drivers."

NHTSA data show that 1,963 young drivers between the ages of 15 to 20 died and an additional 187,000 young drivers were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2010. One out of ten drivers involved in a fatal crash was between the ages of 15 and 20.

"Immaturity, inexperience and a penchant for risk-taking are the major reasons for high crash and fatality rates among teen drivers," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "In addition to comprehensive state graduated driver licensing systems and strong bans on teen cell phone use and texting while driving, parents who are involved throughout the learning-to-drive process are vital in creating safe and prepared young drivers."

Advice to parents

NHTSA offers the following advice to parents and caregivers of teen drivers:

  • Learn and follow your state graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws: GDL systems have been shown to reduce teen crashes. All states have three-stage GDL programs (learner's permit, intermediate or provisional license, full licensure). During the process, restrictions are put in place so young drivers can gain critical driving experience in lower-risk situations and a gradual introduction to more complex tasks through controlled exposure to high-risk situations.
  • Create and sign a parent-teen driving contract: A parent-teen driving contract sets ground rules and creates and explains the consequences of breaking those rules. This ensures teen accountability, ownership of expectations, and an understanding that driving is a privilege that can be revoked.
  • Prohibit the use of electronic devices while driving: Driving while talking on the phone or while texting is risky for all drivers -- but especially for teens. In 2010, 368 teen drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes were distracted, accounting for 13 percent of all fatal distraction affected crashes. Use of electronic devices while driving is also forbidden by law in many states for all drivers. Parents and caregivers should forbid the use of portable electronic devices while driving and also model safe behavior by turning off their cell phones while behind the wheel. Encourage your teen to speak up when someone is using an electronic device while driving. A recent NHTSA survey found that young people were less likely than other age groups to say something to a driver who made them feel unsafe.
  • Limit teen passengers and night driving: A NHTSA analysis found teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer compared to when driving alone. That risk increased with multiple passengers. In 2010, 1,326 passengers in young drivers' vehicles were killed in crashes involving young drivers. Most nighttime fatal crashes of young drivers occur between 9 p.m. and midnight. NHTSA recommends a maximum of one passenger in the car with your teen at all times (no passengers if required by your state GDL law) and nighttime driving restrictions starting no later than 10 p.m.
  • Encourage your teen to always buckle up: Wearing a seat belt is the most effective protection for drivers and passengers in the event of a crash. In 2010, three out of five 16- to 20-year-old occupants killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing seatbelts.
  • Talk to your teen about alcohol: All states and the District of Columbia have 21-year-old minimum-drinking-age laws. In 2010, 22 percent of the young drivers involved in fatal crashes were drinking. Talk to your teen about the risks of both drinking and driving, and of riding with an impaired driver.
  • Establish regular supervised driving and feedback sessions: Most parents and caregivers are unaware of the number of hours of supervised driving teens must complete as part of the intermediate phase of their state's GDL program. Parents should refer to the minimum supervised driving requirements required by their state, but are also encouraged to continue to drive with their teen in a variety of driving situations and environments, such as at night, in inclement weather, and in high traffic situations even beyond what's required. More practice will only make them better drivers. Set aside a regular time to discuss your teen's progress, experiences, concerns and achievements.
If you are the parent of a teen who is driving, you've no doubt spent some sleepless hours waiting for the car to pull into the driveway. But there's a lot...
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Teens Driving Teens Raises Risks

AAA presses states to keep teens out of cars of new drivers

In recent years traffic safety officials have figured something out. When young drivers have a car full of other teenagers, the risks of an accident go up.

That's why in some states now a newly licensed driver may not drive with other teens in the vehicle for the first few months. Triple-A recently completed a survey that confirms the logic of these laws.

The new research shows the number of teen passengers in a vehicle resulted in an increase of risky behaviors for 16 and 17-year-old drivers. Among 16 and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes speeding increased when there were other teen passengers in the car.

Late-night driving also increased, as did the use of alcohol.

Deadly consequences

"Teens driving teens can have deadly consequences," said Jack Peet, AAA Michigan Traffic Safety manager. "AAA urges parents to clearly communicate and limit the frequency that newly licensed teens drive with young passengers."

To reach its findings the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed data on fatal crashes that occurred in the United States from 2005 through 2010. The report shows the prevalence of passengers ages 13-19 in fatal crashes involving drivers age 16 and 17, and examines the characteristics of those crashes according to age, sex and number of teen passengers present.

Researchers found that 9,578 drivers age 16 and 17 were involved in fatal crashes, and that 3,994 of these included at least one teen passenger.

"Teen crashes remain a huge problem nationwide," said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. "Our past research clearly shows how young passengers substantially increase a novice driver's risk of being in a fatal crash, and these new findings underscore the need to refocus our efforts, to address the problem, from state legislatures to parents."

Three-step licensing

AAA is recommending that all states adopt and enforce a comprehensive three-stage graduated license system that would start with a learner's permit, move to an intermediate/probationary license, and then graduate to a full unrestricted license for novice drivers.

In addition, AAA would like to limit driving at night and with young passengers.

"Statistics show that graduated driver licensing programs are a concrete way of reducing the risk of motor vehicle crashes for novice drivers," said Peet. "Parental involvement is key in the learning to drive process and steps parents can take, such as setting and enforcing a parent-teen driving agreement, improve safety by gradually easing teens into driving."

Lest teens think AAA is picking on them, the auto club says the numbers don't lie.

Teenage drivers are involved in more crashes per mile than drivers of any other age group. Drivers aged 16 to 17 are involved in about seven times as many crashes per mile driven compared to drivers in their forties, fifties or sixties.

In recent years traffic safety officials have figured something out. When young drivers have a car full of other teenagers, the risks of an accident go up....
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Study: Many Texting Drivers Unaware They're Doing It

We tend to automatically respond to 'texting cues'

If you ask a friend if he texts while driving, he'll likely say "no," or "not much." But after observing him behind the wheel for a while, you might find he checks his phones for messages a lot.

It's common, say researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M). When people check their cell phones without thinking about it, the habit represents a type of automatic behavior, or automaticity, the researchers say. Automaticity, which was the key variable in the study, is triggered by situational cues and lacks control, awareness, intention and attention.

"In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact," said Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies and the study's lead author.

Safety issue

Texting behind the wheel has become a major highway safety concern as smartphones have proliferated. And it's not just teens who fall victim to the habit; adults can be offenders too.

The U-M study identifies the role of unconscious thought processes in texting and driving, making it different from other research that has focused on the effects of this behavior. The U-M study investigates the role of habit in texting while driving, with a focus on how, rather than how much, the behavior is carried out.

Many people have phones that vibrate when a new message is received. Or, the phone makes a sound. These can be texting cues that people respond to automatically.

"In the case of more habitual behavior, reacting to these cues becomes automatic to the point that the person may do so without even meaning to do it," said Scott Campbell, associate professor of communication studies at U-M.

Automatic tendencies

The study tried to determine subjects' level of automatic response and frequency of texting, as well as their attitudes about texting behind the wheel. The findings show that automatic tendencies are a significant and positive predictor of both sending and reading texts behind the wheel, even when accounting for how much individuals text overall, norms and attitudes. It found that not all drivers pose the same risk.

"Two mobile phone users, then, could use their devices at an equal rate, but differ in the degree to which they perform the behavior automatically," Campbell said.

Bayer says the implications of the study may help provide solutions to texting and driving. He says the current campaigns to stop people from texting while driving aren't as effective if individuals don't realize how much they are doing it.

"By targeting these automatic mechanisms, we can design specific self-control strategies for drivers," he said.

If you ask a friend if they text while driving, they'll like say no, or "not much." But after observing them behind the wheel for a while, you might find t...
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Risky Business: Study Measures Risk of Distracted Driving

Researchers were "amazed" at the magnitude of the increase in risk

Tom Dingus stands by an instrumented vehicle. VTI photo by Tom Stroup

We're constantly being told that it's dangerous to drive while distracted by other tasks. But just how dangerous is it really? Research published in Ergonomics and Design reveals the crash risk of various activities based on observations of drivers in instrumented vehicles.  Even the researchers were amazed by the magnitude of the increase in risk.

"Taking your eyes off the road to dial a cell phone or look up an address and send a text increases the risk of crashing by 600 to 2,300 percent," said Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, Va.

Asserting that driver behavior and performance needs to be understood in the context of the driving environment, the researchers used the results of several naturalistic driving studies. Traditional driver studies have been done on test tracks or with simulators, or have been based on crash studies based on interviews where "drivers and other eyewitnesses are deceased, dazed, inattentive, or fearful," according to the research article.

"Naturalistic driving research involves the instrumentation of vehicles, including video cameras, for the purpose of precisely recording participants as they normally drive as well as in the seconds leading up to crashes and near-crashes," the article explains. Continuous data are collected for as long as two years.

"Near crashes" contain all the elements of a crash except the outcome, which is averted by successful last-second maneuvers.

Most dangerous tasks

The researchers observed that the most dangerous tasks are visual-manual in nature. "You have to take your eyes off of the road to do something," said Tom Dingus, director of the transportation institute. "Most of the tasks require multiple steps to complete and multiple glances away from the road."

The tasks are also rarely associated with built in features that come as original equipment of the car or truck.

"The tasks that we should focus heavily on correcting are the newer cell phone tasks of texting, typing, reading, dialing, and reaching for a phone," Charlie Klauer, research scientist at the transportation institute, said.

The researchers conclude with these recommendations:

  • Vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers need to focus on minimizing visual-manual interaction with devices and thereby minimizing eyes-off-road time. The article suggests interfaces that lock out features while the vehicle is in motion as well as the use of auditory or voice interfaces.
  • Manufacturers of nomadic devices should integrate via Bluetooth or wireless to interact seamlessly with an in-vehicle interface that has the features in the first item, or that simply lock out all the most complex features while a vehicle is in motion (as detected by GPS).
  • The public needs to be informed of the relative risks of the various tasks that are commonly accomplished in a moving vehicle.

Regarding legislation, the researchers wrote that "Texting bans are appropriate (and) handheld cell phone bans – particularly as applied to smartphones – may be necessary."  However, "Total cell phone bans that include true hands-free voice input-output devices are unwarranted," the transportation research team said.

"Other devices, such as mobile data terminals in trucks, need to be seriously and immediately assessed from design, education, and legislative viewpoints," Hanowski said.

The paper, "Estimating Crash Risk," by Dingus, Hanowski and Klauer, research scientist at the transportation institute, has just received the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s 2012 Best Ergonomics in Design Article Award, to be presented at the society's annual meeting, Oct. 22-26, in Boston.

Tom Dingus stands by an instrumented vehicle. VTI photo by Tom StroupWe're constantly being told that it's dangerous to drive while distracted by other...
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New Car Buyers Admit Driving While Distracted

Survey shows they value safety technology over entertainment and comfort

Now that consciousnesses have been significantly raised against the dangers of drinking and driving, there is a new danger on the highway getting a lot of attention. It's one most of us admit we do.

In a survey of new car buyers by Harris Interactive, 84 percent admitted engaging in one or more cases of distracted driving in an average month. On average, they reported engaging in nearly 37 distracted driving habits in an average four week period.

Most people think of texting or talking on cell phones as distracted driving but there are many other activities that can take drivers' eyes – and minds – off the road.

Cell phones biggest distraction

Topping the list of activities were sending or receiving a phone call (11 times), drinking a beverage (8 times), texting (5 times), or emailing (3 times). New car buyers between the ages of 18 to 34 engage in the most distracted driving habits. Yet, the same age group had a lower frequency of making or receiving phone calls compared to new car buyers ages 35 to 44.

Breaking it down by gender, men engage in distracted driving habits the most, especially when making and receiving calls, compared to women.

Government agencies and even corporations have stepped up efforts to combat distracted driving with series of videos and public service announcements, such as the one below.

Perhaps because of the awareness campaigns, the survey found new car buyers more interested in safety.

"While ideally these drivers should practice fewer of these distracted driving habits, it is also comforting to know that this distracted driving group is aware of the importance of safety features and is actively considering them for their next vehicle purchase," said Mike Chadsey, Vice President, Automotive Solutions Consultant, Harris Interactive.

Safety technology

Safety technologies like back-up cameras, blind spot warning systems, and pedestrian sensors gained the most consumer interest over the past year compared to technologies focused on entertainment and comfort such as satellite radio and voice-activated controls.

Before exposure to a price, new car buyers prefer the option of smart phone docking over built-in applications, with 24 percent saying they would consider the option of docking their smart phone in their vehicle compared to just 14 percent who would consider having applications built-in.

Once exposed to a price, consideration is just slightly less, at 20 percent, even though smart phone docking technology was priced $100 higher than built-in applications.

"Consumers are indicating that they want their automotive technology to help improve safety while giving them more flexibility, even if it costs a little more," said Chadsey.  

Now that consciousnesses have been significantly raised against the dangers of drinking and driving, there is a new danger on the highway getting a lot of ...
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Survey: Many Teens Believe Distracted Driving Isn't a Big Deal

Only 30 percent feel it's very dangerous, Consumer Reports finds

When it comes to teenage driving, most parents would probably prefer their teens drive by themselves, as opposed to having a car full of other teenagers to distract them. But a Consumer Reports survey shows that having peers in the car can actually keep teenage drivers from being distracted by cell phone use or texting.

Though the report shows that younger drivers are less likely to text or use cell phones when driving, many teens surveyed believed that distracted driving isn't really a big danger.

Only 36 percent of survey participants between the ages of 18 to 29 admitted to being concerned with the issue of distracted driving. A mere 30 percent felt it was very dangerous to use a handheld phone while driving, while 53 percent of respondents aged 30 or older said distracted driving is extremely problematic.

But more people believed that texting was a harmful act, as 76 percent felt that texting while driving is very dangerous, and 83 percent said to be in favor of distracted driving laws when it came to texting. This may be a response to national efforts by several organizations to build awareness of texting while driving and highlight its dangers.

Teens surveyed

The report also included a series of interviews conducted by Consumer Reports, that asked teen drivers what they thought needed to be done to eliminate texting and cell phone use while driving. Their suggestions included:

  • "Make it safe and acceptable to pull over to do such tasks."
  • "Stiffer penalties, parents applying consequences for minors, and more education/awareness programs."
  • "Adults don't discipline like it's a problem; parents are blind to it. They tell us do not drink and drive, but don't say do not use the phone."
  • "I think that apps … that prohibit a user from receiving or sending text messages while traveling over 10 mph are very helpful and should be more widely used."
  • "Parents should let us kids have a Bluetooth headset so we wouldn't be tempted to use our phones and take a hand off the steering wheel."
  • "I know that my friend texts a lot while she's driving, but whenever I'm in her car, I make her give me the phone and tell me what she wants me to write. …Peer pressure is such a powerful force when you have it in your corner."

In a written statement, Rik Paul, Consumer Reports auto editor said "Our survey showed that while far too many young people are driving while distracted, they are less likely to do so when their parents, friends or siblings set a good example."

Additional findings in the report showed that, 84 percent of younger drivers saw other younger drivers talking on their cell phones while behind the wheel, and 71 percent said they've witnessed teenagers texting while driving.

Also, 48 percent of respondents witnessed their parents talking on handheld phones while driving, 15 percent saw their parents texting, and 8 percent of the respondents even admitted to using a smartphone app while behind the wheel.

The distracted driver survey was conducted online, between Nov. 23, 2011 to Dec. 13, 2011. A total of 1,049 questionnaires were filled out by adults ranging from 16 to 21.

When it comes to teenage driving, most parents would probably prefer their teens driving by themselves, as opposed to having a car full of other teenagers ...
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Teens Say Texting While Driving Is Common

They say they know it's dangerous but do it anyway

U.S. teenagers say they know texting while they drive is dangerous, but they do it anyway.

In a survey commissioned by AT&T, 97 percent of teens said they know the practice is dangerous but 43 percent admitted to doing it at least once. Seventy-five percent of those questioned said texting behind the wheel is common among their friends.

The main reason they do it, teens said, was pressure to respond to a text immediately. Almost all teens - 89 percent – said they expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less. Sixty-one percent of teens in the survey say they glance at their phone while driving, and 61 percent have seen their friends read or send an email, or text, while driving.

How did teenagers develop such a dangerous habit? Maybe by observing adults. According to 77 percent of teens, adults tell kids not to text while driving – yet adults do it themselves "all the time."

Forty-one percent of teens report seeing their parents read or send an email, or text, while driving. Sixty-two percent of teens feel that getting reminders from their own parents not to text and drive would be effective in getting them or their friends to stop texting and driving.

Texting ranks as the No. 1 mode of communication among teens. On average, teens text five times more a day than a typical adult. When this habit hits the road, drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be in an accident or near-accident.

Texting is just one form of distracted driving that is increasingly blamed for accidents. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, more than 5,400 people died in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver and about 448,000 people were injured.

Among those killed or injured in these crashes, nearly 1,000 deaths and 24,000 injuries included cell phone use as the major distraction.

U.S. teenagers say they know texting while they drive is dangerous, but they do it anyway.In a survey commissioned by AT&T, 97 percent of teens said ...
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NTSB: Hand-Held Cell Phone Ban Doesn't Go Far Enough

Truck and bus drivers should be banned from all cell phone use, board chair argues

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair is saying a new rule that prohibits interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones doesn't go far enough.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the new rule Dec. 23, and NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman says that while it's a "positive step forward," it doesn't go far enough.

"Given what we've seen in our accident investigations ... we think that the DOT should have gone further," Hersman said in a prepared statement. "Research shows there is no safety benefit to the use of hands-free cell phone devices. When at the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle, driving safely should be the driver's only focus."

Just as dangerous

Recent studies have indeed found that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting -- and just as dangerous -- as hand-held models.

A September 2010 study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers.

"The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk," said Adrian Lund, president of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

For example, an IIHS study that relies on driver phone records found a four-fold increase in the risk of injury crashes. A study in Canada found a four-fold increase in the risk of crashes involving property damage. Separate surveys of driver behavior before and after hand-held phone use bans show reductions in the use of such phones while driving.

Longtime concern

As early as 2006, Hersman notes, the NTSB was concerned about the impact of distracted driving on commercial drivers when it investigated a crash involving an experienced bus driver who was distracted by his hands-free cell-phone and failed to move to the center lane, striking  the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia.

Eleven of the 27 high school students on board his bus were injured.

"As a result, we made a recommendation to prohibit the use of cell phones, hand-held or hands-free, by commercial drivers with a passenger endorsement," Hersman said.

Earlier this fall, following the investigation of a 2010 crash in Munfordville, Kentucky, a truck-tractor crossed the median of I-44 and struck a 15-passenger van killing 11 people, the NTSB called for a complete ban on the use of cell phones by all drivers holding a commercial driver's license, except in emergencies. According to interviews conducted after the crash, the truck driver normally used a hands-free device.

And just last week, said Hersman, after concluding an investigation of a highway accident that killed two and injured 38, the NTSB called on the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers.

"We are witnessing a disturbing trend in accident and incident investigations -- the ever-present cell phone poses an insidious danger when it comes to cognitive distractions behind the wheel," she said.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair is saying a new rule that prohibits interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones...
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Feds Call For Nationwide Ban On Driver Use Of Cell Phones

Blame texting for serious accident involving school buses in Missouri

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called on all 50 states - at least those that have not yet done so - to ban the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by people behind the wheel.

The recommendation came at the conclusion of an NTSB hearing into a 2010 accident in Missouri that involved two school buses, a piece of construction equipment, and a passenger vehicle. Two people were killed and 38 others injured.

The NTSB ruled the probable cause of the accident was the 19 year old driver of the passenger vehicle sending 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the fatal crash. The young driver was one of the two fatalities.

The board also faulted the drivers of the two school buses; the first for inattention behind the wheel and the second for tailgating.

Up 50%

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study released last week said texting behind the wheel increased 50 percent last year. Twenty percent of drivers admit they've dashed off a text message while driving. The study found the younger you are, the more likely you are to have done it.

Driving while talking on a cell phone, also against the law in a number of states, is an even more common practice, the survey found. Most drivers surveyed said they will take a cell phone call while driving.

Nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Except for Maryland, all laws are primary enforcement—an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. Thirty-five states, D.C. and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers.

The NTSB wants a nationwide ban of cell phone use behind the wheel...
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Texting While Driving More Dangerous Than Previously Believed

Texas study finds it doubles reaction times

Since cell phones became universal, drivers have had it drummed into them how dangerous it is to send and receive texts behinds the wheel. It turns out we didn't know the half of it.

Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) have concluded that a driver’s reaction time is doubled when distracted by reading or sending a text message. The study reveals how the texting impairment is even greater than many experts believed, and demonstrates how texting drivers are less able to react to sudden roadway hazards.

First study

The study is the first U.S. study to examine texting while driving in an actual driving environment – consisted of three major steps. First, participants typed a story of their choice (usually a simple fairy tale) and also read and answered questions related to another story, both on their smart phone in a laboratory setting.

Each participant then navigated a test-track course involving both an open section and a section lined by construction barrels. Drivers first drove the course without texting, then repeated both lab tasks separately while driving through the course again. Throughout the test-track exercise, each participant’s reaction time to a periodic flashing light was recorded.

Eleven times more likely to miss flashing lights

Reaction times with no texting activity were typically between one and two seconds. Reaction times while texting, however, were at least three to four seconds. Worse yet, drivers were more than 11 times more likely to miss the flashing light altogether when they were texting.

The researchers say that the study findings extend to other driving distractions that involve reading or writing, such as checking e-mail or Facebook.

“Most research on texting and driving has been limited to driving simulators. This study involved participants driving an actual vehicle,” said ChristineYager, an associate transportation researcher in TTI’s Center for Transportation Safety. “So one of the more important things we know now that we didn’t know before is that response times are even slower than we previously thought.”

texting behind the wheel is more dangerous that first thought...
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Study: Teens More Prone to Texting and Driving

Distracted driving called a "deadly epidemic"

Researchers say young drivers are more likely to text and drive than their elders, so the U.S. Department of Transportation and Consumer Reports are launching a publicity campaign to alert parents, teachers and teens about the dangers of distracted driving.

Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on America’s roads, and teens are especially vulnerable because of their inexperience behind the wheel and, often, peer pressure,” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said.  “Behind the statistics are real families who have been devastated by these tragedies. We’re pleased to be working withConsumer Reportsto raise awareness and help communities fight this problem.”

Not everyone agrees with LaHood, however. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for one, said recently that texting bans haven't been effective in reducing crashes. IIHS prsident Adrian Lund said LaHood was ignoring"the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem."

The DOT-Consumer Reports campaign consists primarily ofa free guide for parents and educators called “Distracted Driving Shatters Lives,”s available at the Department of Transportation (DOT)’s web site Distraction.gov and ConsumerReports.org/Distracted

Copies will be distributed to schools and volunteer groups by the National School Safety Coalition. DOT and Consumer Reports today are sending a public service announcement to TV stations nationwide, and the guide will be highlighted in a Consumer Reports video to air in retail stores across America in April, where it is expected to reach as many as 100 million people.

Survey shows risk

A new, national survey by Consumer Reports National Research Center showed how widespread distracted driving is, especially among younger drivers:

  • 63 percent of respondents under 30 years old reported using a handheld phone while driving in the past 30 days, and 30 percent of them texted while driving during the same period.   That compares with 41 percent and 9 percent, respectively, of respondents who were 30 or older.

  • Among the under-30 respondents, only 36 percent were very concerned about the problem of distracted driving, and only 30 percent felt it was very dangerous to use a handheld phone.

  • 64 percent of respondents overall said they had seen other drivers texting using a handheld device in the past 30 days.  94 percent had observed drivers talking on a mobile phone and 58 percent had seen a dangerous driving situation related to a distracted driver in the past month.

  • 78 percent of respondents overall said they had reduced or stopped behaviors related to distracted driving.  Of that group, 66 percent said they did so because of reading or hearing about the dangers.

According to the Department of Transportation, nearly 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed and almost half a million were injured in accidents related to distracted driving in 2009.  Eighteen percent of those fatal accidents involved the use of a cell phone.

Study: Teens More Prone to Texting and Driving...
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Safety Experts Clash Over Texting Bans

Transportation Secretary LaHood vows he won't be distracted from his campaign

Is distracted driving really as bad as federal regulators say it is?

To U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the answer is obvious. He says about 5,500 people died and 500,000 people were injured in 2009 because of distracted driving and he has no intention of being distracted from his campaign to stamp out texting and cell phone use while driving.

LaHood's focus on distracted driving has been generating lots of pushback lately from those who say there are plenty of bigger issues worthy of LaHood's attention.

One such critic is Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), who says texting bans haven't been effective in reducing distracted-driving crashes.

"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted," said Lund. "It's an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws."

A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute last year found no reduction in crashes after states banned texting by drivers. LaHood called that study "completely misleading."

But Lund said LaHood is ignoring "the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem."

The former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Jeffrey Runge, also weighed in on the issue recently, telling USA Today last week that LaHood should focus on bigger causes of traffic deaths and injuries.

But LaHood is not being moved by his critics.

We will not be deterred by false choices about addressing distracted driving on the one hand and alternative critical safety issues on the other,” LaHood said today in Washington.

LaHood said his department remains focused on addressing drunken driving, putting babies in car seats and wearing seat belts. But in a follow-up letter to USA Today he said, "the fact remains that from 2005 to 2008, distraction-related fatalities jumped from 10% to 16% of all traffic fatalities on American roads. And that jump could only be the tip of a very deadly iceberg as the number of text messages spiked from 7 billion per month in 2005 to about 173 billion per month in 2010."

LaHood is concerned about not only mobile phones but also hands-free calls made using vehicle information and entertainment systems such as Ford Motor Co.'s Sync and General Motors Co.'s OnStar.

LaHood said he will meet with the chairmen of Ford and Chrysler Group LLC in Detroit next week about curbing distracted driving. He said he has already spoken with executives of General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and BMW..

He has also been encouraging corporations to ban mobile phone use and texting by fleet drivers.

Safeway last year banned drivers of its 797 tractor-trailer trucks and 403 home-delivery trucks from talking or texting, including hands-free devices, while operating its trucks, a company spokesman said.

Safety Experts Clash Over Texting Bans. Transportation Secretary LaHood vows he won't be distracted from his campaign....
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Answer to Distracted Driving Is ‘Common Sense,’ Feds Say

Transportation Secretary says interview remarks advocating technology approach misinterpreted

While there may be potential technology that could render a cell phone useless behind the wheel of a car, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the government is not pursuing it.

LaHood says his remarks in a recent interview on the cable news channel MSNBC were misreported as advocating for the department to go down that road. In his blog, LaHood says he had no intention of conveying that meaning.

"What I actually said was 'there's a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we're looking at that," LaHood says.

The Secretary said a number of cell technology innovators attended the government's recent Distracted Driving Summit in Washington and presented their technology, and LaHood admits that's one way to address the problem. But in his blog entry, LaHood says it may not be the best way.

"You have to have good laws, you have to have good enforcement, and you have to have people take personal responsibility. That's the bottom line," he wrote. "When you get behind the wheel of a 5,000 pound automobile, you have a personal responsibility to drive that vehicle safely. That means, put away cell phones and other devices that take your focus off of the road."

Federal and state efforts

Federal and state governments have taken a variety of steps to reduce the number of people who drive while talking or texting, increasingly blamed for traffic accidents. In June the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill that would reward states for banning drivers from talking on cell phones or sending and receiving text messages.

In August the Transportation Department kicked off pilot programs in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York to test whether increased law enforcement efforts can get distracted drivers to put down their cell phones and focus on the road.

The pilot programs, which are similar to previous efforts to curb drunken driving and increase seat belt use among drivers, were the first federally funded efforts in the country to specifically focus on the effects of increased enforcement and public advertising on reducing distracted driving. Drivers caught texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone will be pulled over and ticketed.

A University of Utah study says distraction from cell phone use while driving, either hand held or hands free, is about t he same as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. The National Highways Transportation Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says drivers that use cell phones are four times as likely to get into injury-causing accidents.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he prefers a 'common sense' approach to stopping distracted driving, not a technology-based one....
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Feds Explore Technology To Disable Cell Phones In Cars

Transportation Secretary shows strong interest

When drunk driving became an alarming road hazard, technology came up with a breathalyzer that would not allow the car to start if the driver had been drinking.

Now, a similar device might be in the works to address a new driving issue - people who talk or text on cell phones while driving. The idea is being taken seriously in Washington.

Appearing on the cable news channel MSNBC last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said his department is investigating to see if current technology can be used to disable cell phones in vehicles.

"There's a lot of technology out there than can disable phones, and we're looking at that," LaHood said.

LaHood said the idea gained a lot of traction earlier this year at the Transportation Department's Distracted Driving Summit. It's not clear what form the anti-cell phone technology would be deployed, but wireless experts say signal scrambling technology may be the most obvious.

"I think it will be done," LaHood said.

Federal and state governments have taken a variety of steps to reduce the number of people who drive while talking or texting, increasingly blamed for traffic accidents. In June the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill that would reward states for banning drivers from talking on cell phones or sending and receiving text messages.

In August the Transportation Department kicked off pilot programs in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York to test whether increased law enforcement efforts can get distracted drivers to put down their cell phones and focus on the road.

The pilot programs, which are similar to previous efforts to curb drunken driving and increase seat belt use among drivers, were the first federally funded efforts in the country to specifically focus on the effects of increased enforcement and public advertising on reducing distracted driving. Drivers caught texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone will be pulled over and ticketed.

A University of Utah study says distraction from cell phone use while driving, either hand held or hands free, is about t he same as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. The National Highways Transportation Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says drivers that use cell phones are four times as likely to get into injury-causing accidents.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has expressed strong interest in developing a technology to disable cell phone use by drivers....
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Seniors In More Severe Auto Crashes Than Younger Drivers

Making left turns especially dangerous



How old is too old to drive? No question is more likely to ignite debate among seniors as that one, with many pointing out that competence behind the wheel, not age, should be the determining factor.

Even so, researchers at Kansas State are taking a close look at the numbers, both the number of years and the number of severe accidents. They say they found most car accidents involving older drivers occur during the daytime and are more severe, often ending in injury or fatality, than those for younger populations.

With this knowledge, the researchers will follow up with a study to learn what changes can be made to improve these difficulties for older drivers.

The focus will be on countermeasures to reduce the number of crashes involving older drivers and the severity of the crashes. The objective of the research, however, is not to take the keys away from seniors. In fact, it's aimed at finding ways to keep older Americans driving longer.

"Highway safety of older drivers is an issue," said Sunanda Dissanayake, K-State associate professor of civil engineering. "If you live in an area like Kansas, there's not much public transportation, so drivers have to rely on a personal vehicle. The older population should be able to drive. It's a significant predictor of their quality of life."

Dissanayake started the project, which is funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation, in 2008 with Loshaka Perera, a former K-State graduate student in civil engineering. Dissanayake presented the research in March at the Institute of Transportation Engineers Annual Meeting.

Crunching the numbers

For the study, older drivers were defined as people 65 years and older. The researchers analyzed Kansas crash data from 1997 to 2006, which included crashes based on involvement and severity. The data were analyzed and compared among drivers aged 15 to 25, drivers aged 25 to 65, and older drivers.

"If you look at the number of total crashes in Kansas involving older drivers, it's not that much. That's because they don't drive as much as the rest of the population," Dissanayake said. "But if you look at crash involvement per mile driven, that's very high for older drivers."

The crash analysis showed that the severity of crashes for older drivers also is very high compared to the rest of the population. When looking at the categories of crash severity, older drivers have the highest incidents in fatal crashes, as well as incapacitating and non-incapacitating crashes. Older drivers also had a higher percentage of crashes occurring at intersections and accidents happening during daylight.

"That doesn't necessarily mean it's more dangerous during daytime," Dissanayake said. "It could be because older drivers do most of their driving during the daylight hours."

Most of the older-driver crashes involved colliding with another vehicle while in traffic. Few involved running off the road and hitting something, which is more common for young drivers, Dissanayake said. Right before their crashes, most of the older drivers were driving straight ahead, but a significant amount were making a left turn. Dissanayake said making a left turn is especially difficult when there is no green arrow, leaving the maneuver to the driver's judgment.

The study also identified the personal opinions and experiences of older drivers. The researchers distributed a survey for older drivers around Kansas at places like senior centers, retirement communities and churches. The results showed that more than 92 percent of the participants had more than 50 years of driving experience. Most of them reported driving cars, and 41 percent said they drove every day.

Fewer than 100 miles per month

However, the majority of older drivers said they drove less than 100 miles per month. The survey also showed that 65 percent of participants had never taken a driver education course, and 18 percent of the participants were involved in a crash in the last 10 years.

The survey also asked questions regarding the drivers' perceptions of the difficulties for different driving conditions. The participants said they don't mind driving in windy or rainy conditions, though they try to avoid driving in snow. Men reported to be more wiling to drive in bad weather compared to women.

Only 38 percent of the drivers said they are likely to drive during the night, and 39 percent said they are likely to drive on freeways. Participants also answered questions regarding factors of driving that have become more difficult as they have gotten older.

"One of the most difficult things for them is identifying the speed and distance of oncoming traffic," Dissanayake said. "This is important for making a left turn, and looking at the crash data, we see a lot of left-turn crashes."

The participants also said they have difficulty and feel less comfortable making sudden, unexpected stops while driving, as well as merging and changing lanes. Fifty percent said they would like to avoid high-traffic roads, as well as freeways and two-lane undivided highways.

One of the challenging situations that could be improved is the safety at intersections, Dissanayake said.

"In areas where there are more older drivers, I think we should always look at the possibility of having the green arrow indication at left turns," Dissanayake said. "Additionally, for driver education perhaps we need to have a closer look at the driver license renewal process, such as its frequency and what is covered."

Improved road signs

She said the fonts and sizes of road signs also could be further improved to ensure older driver safety.

"As the older population gradually increases in the United States, so will the number of older drivers," Dissanayake said. "We need to be taking steps to improve their safety while driving, which also would be beneficial to all road users."

Seniors In More Severe Auto Crashes Than Younger Drivers...
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Few Drive Well While Yakking on Cell Phones

However, study finds one in 40 are 'supertaskers' who can do both

March 31, 2010
Are you one of those annoying people who can't get behind the wheel without carrying on a conversation on your cell phone?

You might be interested to know that a new study conducted by University of Utah psychologists found there is just a small group of people who have the extraordinary ability to multitask: Unlike 97.5 percent of those studied, they can drive safely while chatting on the phone.

These individuals -- described by the researchers as "supertaskers" - make up just 2.5 percent of the population. They are so-named for their ability to do two things at once successfully. In this case, they can talk on a cell phone while operating a driving simulator without noticeable impairment.

The study, conducted by psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer, is to appear later this year in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review .

The researchers believe their finding is important not because it shows people can drive well while on the phone -- the study confirms that the vast majority cannot -- but because it challenges current theories of multitasking. Further research may lead eventually to new understanding of regions of the brain that are responsible for supertaskers' extraordinary performance.

"According to cognitive theory, these individuals ought not to exist," says Watson. "Yet, clearly they do, so we use the supertasker term as a convenient way to describe their exceptional multitasking ability. Given the number of individuals who routinely talk on the phone while driving, one would have hoped that there would be a greater percentage of supertaskers. And while we'd probably all like to think we are the exception to the rule, the odds are overwhelmingly against it. In fact, the odds of being a supertasker are about as good as your chances of flipping a coin and getting five heads in a row."

The researchers assessed the performance of 200 participants over a single task (simulated freeway driving), and again with a second demanding activity added (a cell phone conversation that involved memorizing words and solving math problems). Performance was then measured in four areas -- braking reaction time, following distance, memory, and math execution.

As expected, results showed that for the group, performance suffered across the board while driving and talking on a hands-free cell phone.

For those who were not supertaskers and who talked on a cell phone while driving the simulators, it took 20 percent longer to hit the brakes when needed and following distances increased 30 percent as the drivers failed to keep pace with simulated traffic while driving. Memory performance declined 11 percent, and the ability to do math problems fell three percent.

However, when supertaskers talked while driving, they displayed no change in their normal braking times, following distances or math ability, and their memory abilities actually improved three percent.

The results are in line with Strayer's prior studies showing that driving performance routinely declines under "dual-task conditions" -- namely talking on a cell phone while driving -- and is comparable to the impairment seen in drunken drivers.

Yet contrary to current understanding in this area, the small number of supertaskers showed no impairment on the measurements of either driving or cell conversation when in combination. Further, researchers found that these individuals' performance even on the single tasks was markedly better than the control group.

"There is clearly something special about the supertaskers," says Strayer. "Why can they do something that most of us cannot? Psychologists may need to rethink what they know about multitasking in light of this new evidence. We may learn from these very rare individuals that the multitasking regions of the brain are different and that there may be a genetic basis for this difference. That is very exciting. Stay tuned."

Watson and Strayer are now studying expert fighter pilots under the assumption that those who can pilot a jet aircraft are also likely to have extraordinary multitasking ability.

There's a growing sense of concern throughout the nation about "distracted driving" as it's become known. Numerous states have banned the use of cell phones while driving.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls talking on cell phone while driving "a recipe for disaster on our nation's highways." Last fall, he convened a two-day summit to deal with the problem.

Few Drive Well While Yakking on Cell Phones...
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New Jersey Drivers Flouting Cell Phone Ban

Poll shows texting while driving increasing

March 5, 2010
New Jersey has a law prohibiting drivers from texting or talking on their cell phones while behind the wheel, but it's clear many have not gotten the message.

The evidence is in the number of tickets state police officers have written over the last two years. In the past 23 months, 224,725 citations -- an average of 9,770 a month -- have been issued to motorists for violating the state's cell phone law.

"We are making progress in our efforts to ensure that all motorists are aware of the consequences they face if they choose to talk on a cell phone or text while driving," said Pam Fischer, New Jersey's Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. "Our work is far from done, though. Any cell phone conversation while driving, whether hand-held or hands-free, is distracting and dangerous, and can result in crashes, injuries, and in some cases the loss of life. For the safety of all roadway users, we must hang up and just drive."

At least 1.4 million crashes nationwide are caused each year by drivers talking on their cell phones, while a minimum of 200,000 crashes are caused by drivers texting behind the wheel, according to the National Safety Council.

In New Jersey, since 2008, there have been 3,610 crashes involving a motorist using a hand-held cell phone, resulting in 1,548 injuries and 13 deaths. During the same time period, 3,129 crashes involving the use of a hands-free device resulted in 1,495 injuries and 6 fatalities.

"These numbers are staggering, but perhaps even more disturbing is the number of crashes involving cell phone use and texting that go unreported," Fischer said. "We know that many drivers involved in a crash don't admit to these behaviors, which means that the actual number of cell phone-related crashes in New Jersey is much greater."

New Jersey's primary cell phone law went into effect on March 1, 2008. Motorists violating New Jersey's law face a $100 fine plus court costs and fees.

"The New Jersey Chiefs of Police are committed to enforcing our state's laws that help to ensure the safety of the motoring public on our roadways. Distracted driving by the use of cell phones decreases traffic safety, and is a violation of New Jersey's law. We encourage the motoring public to drive responsibly and respect the motor vehicle laws of our state," said Robert A. Coulton, President of the New Jersey Chiefs of Police Association.

Driving while texting increasing

A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll on driving behaviors conducted last year and co-sponsored by the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, found that the number of New Jersey drivers who said they sent text messages while driving increased by 40 percent between 2008 and 2009, the first year the ban was in effect.

In addition, 57 percent of those drivers under the age of 30 said that they have texted while driving, up six percent from 2008, while more than one in four drivers aged 30 to 44 said they have sent a text message, up eight percent from the previous year. Twelve percent of motorists between the ages of 45 and 60 said they have also sent text messages while driving.

"While the state's motor vehicle fatality rate continued to fall for the third consecutive year, there are still far too many people engaging in unsafe driving behaviors, including talking and texting, that contribute to a dangerous and often tragic situation on our roads," Fischer said. "If we're to reach our goal of zero fatalities, every driver must take personal responsibility for his or her actions behind the wheel, and make a commitment to safety."



New Jersey Drivers Flouting Cell Phone Ban...
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Driving Wrecks Conversation

Talking while driving not as simple as it sounds

We've all heard the adage about being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. But how about talking and driving?

With all the attention being focused on distracted driving, there's a new report out showing that driving impairs our ability to comprehend and produce language or -- put simply -- carry on a conversation.

The University of Illinois study, which used a driving simulator at Illinois's Beckman Institute, involved a stationary Saturn automobile and three display screens featuring simulated roadways and intersections. The experiment's parameters made both driving and language production priorities for the test subjects -- 96 drivers and an equal number of conversation partners.

The results showed, as the authors put it, that when it comes to "whether driving an automobile interferes with the ability to process and remember language" the answer is "unequivocally affirmative."

Findings were of the study are published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

The experiment required the "drivers" to listen to a story through earphones and then accurately retell it to their partners in 30 seconds or less. That task ensured meaningful language production for the test subjects while the driving task challenged them to negotiate an urban roadway environment, obey speed limits, and safely cross busy intersections.

"Driving negatively impacts story retelling as well as the process of comprehending and encoding stories into long-term memory," the researchers wrote. "In summary, consistency in driving performance while dealing with speech (less driving variability) came at the expense of accuracy in story retelling. When doing the speech task only, drivers and nondrivers were equally good at retelling. When the car was moving, however, drivers displayed a large decline in speech-task performance."

The stories used in the study were generally three to four sentences long with specific information the "drivers" were expected to remember and accurately convey to their partners. Both "drivers" and "non-drivers" listened to a story through headphones and then retold them to their partner; then the roles were reversed with the partner performing the same task.

There were three critical task blocks consisting of two single-task blocks (driving-only and speech-only) and one dual-task block (driving while conversing).

By asking participants to convey the stories accurately, the experiment ensured the subjects used novel sentences and maintained a certain level of engagement. Researchers measured the accuracy of the speech production as well as the memories of the subjects.

"Driving affects both of those for the worse," said study coauthor Gary Dell. "It makes you tell the story less accurately and you leave more stuff out. It also makes you worse at remembering the stories that are told to you by your conversation partner."

Unlike previous studies, Dell said, this experiment featured the difficult task of re-telling a story accurately while driving in a challenging environment.

"We made the language task more interesting and realistic," he added. "The effects of driving on talking in this study were stronger. They were larger than what anybody would have expected because intuitively we think driving as being affected by speech, not the other way around."

By focusing on how language is affected by driving, the research gives new insight into how difficult it can be to do two things at the same time -- even tasks that are as familiar to most people as driving and talking.

"If the conversation is really important, they are probably going to focus on the conversation and then their driving will suffer," Dell said. "If the driving is really important, if you are really careful about your driving, the conversation is going to suffer.

"These things -- even though we practice them a lot and are very skilled at doing them -- are hard things to do and when you put them together in a dual task, they suffer," the researchers concluded.

The problem of distracted driving has grown to the point where both the Obama administration and Congress have become involved.

Driving Wrecks Conversation...
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New Insight into Cell Phone Use and Driving Distraction

Study separates fact from myth

Several large-scale, naturalistic driving studies (using sophisticated cameras and instrumentation in participants' personal vehicles) by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) provide a clear picture of driver distraction and cell phone use under real-world driving conditions.

And it's not very reassuring.

"Given recent catastrophic crash events and disturbing trends, there is an alarming amount of misinformation and confusion regarding cell phone and texting use while behind the wheel of a vhicle," says says Dr. Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. "The findings from our research at VTTI can help begin to clear up these misconceptions as it is based on real-world driving data. We conduct transportation safety research in an effort to equip the public with information that can save lives."

In VTTI's studies that included light vehicle drivers and truck drivers, manual manipulation of phones such as dialing and texting of the cell phone lead to a substantial increase in the risk of bein involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash or near crash). However, talking or listening increased risk much less for light vehicles and not at all for trucks. Text messaging on a cell phone was associated with the highest risk of all cell phone related tasks.

Several recent high visibility trucking and transit crashes have been directly linked to texting from a cell phone. VTTI's research showed that text messaging, which had the highest risk of over 20 times worse than driving while not using a phone, also had the longest duration of eyes off road time (4.6 seconds over a 6-second interval). This equates to a driver traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking at the roadway. Talking/listening to a cell phone allowed drivers to maintain eyes on the road and were not associated with an increased safety risk to nearly the same degree.

Recent results from other researchers using driving simulators suggest that talking and listening is as dangerous as visually distracting cell phone tasks. The results from VTTI's naturalistic driving studies clearly indicate that this is not the case.

For example, talking and listening to a cell phone is not nearly as risky as driving while drunk at the legal limit of alcohol. Recent comparisons made in the literature greatly exaggerate the cell phone risk relative to the very serious effects of alcool use, which increases the risk of a fatal crash approximately seven times that of sober driving.

Using simple fatal crash and phone use statistics, if talking on cell phones was as risky as driving while drunk, the number of fatal crashes would have increased roughly 50% in the last decade instead of remaining largely unchanged.

These results show conclusively that a real key to significantly improving safety is keeping your eyes on the road. In contrast, cognitively intense tasks (e.g., emotional conversations, books-on-tape, etc.) can have a measurable effect in the laboratory, but the actual driving risks are much lower in comparison.

Based on findings from research studies, VTTI recommends:

• A ban on texting in moving vehicles for all drivers. This activity has the potential to create a true crash epidemic if texting-type tasks continue to grow in popularity and the generation of frequent text message senders reach driving age in large number.

• Banning cell phone use for newly licensed teen drivers. VTTI's research has shown that teens tend to engage in cell phone tasks much more frequently, and in much more risky situations, than adults. Thus, the studies indicate that teens are four times more likely to get into a related crash or near crash event than their adult conterparts.

The researchers say it is important to keep in mind that a driving simulator is not actual driving. Driving simulators engage participants in tracking tasks in a laboratory. As such, researchers that conduct simulator studies must be cautious when suggesting that conclusions based on simulator studies are aplicable to actual driving.

With the introduction of naturalistic driving studies that record drivers (through continuous video and kinematic sensors) in actual driving situations, researchers now have a scientific method to study driver behavior in real-world driving conditions in the presence of real-world daily pressures.

As such, if the point of transportation safety research is to understand driver behavior in the real-world (e.g., increase crash risk due to cell phone use), and when conflicting findings occur between naturalistic studies and simulator studies, findings from the real-world, and not the simulator-world, must be considered the gold standard.

New Insight into Cell Phone Use and Driving Distraction...
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New Jersey Steps Up Cell Phone Law Enforcement

Police departments crack down on talking while driving

For the last year New Jersey has had a law on the books against using a cell phone while driving, but that hasn't stopped motorists from talking or texting behind the wheel. So for the next two weeks, police will crack down on the practice.

Eighteen local police departments will receive grants of $4,000 each for identifying and stopping motorists who they observe texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. Running through March 15, the two-week program will aim to further increase compliance with New Jersey's primary cell phone law, which has been in effect since March 1, 2008.

According to Division of Highway Traffic Safety Director Pam Fischer, the initiative will send a strong message to motorists that this behavior is not only illegal, but dangerous.

"We know that in 2007, driver inattention was a contributing factor in 22,641 traffic crashes. Of these crashes, 1,866 crashes involved hand-held phones and 1,421 involved talking hands-free," Fischer said. "A driver's attention should be focused solely on driving, period. Any phone conversation, whether it's hand-held or hands-free, is distracting and can instantly take a driver's mind and eyes off the road, creating a potentially deadly situation."

Under the new effort, police officers will be positioned both on the street and in police vehicles at various intersections in their municipality, where they can observe drivers who may be violating the cell phone law. If a violation is observed, the vehicle will be pulled over and the driver issued a citation. Motorists face a $100 fine for violating the law.

Fischer added that according to a Fairleigh Dickenson University PublicMinds Poll of New Jersey motorists, 59 percent say they never use a hand-held cell phone while driving, yet 79 percent say that they see others violating the law.

"The public perception is that this law is not being enforced, and that's simply not true," Fischer stated. "Between March 1, 2008 and January, 2009 — the first 11 months the primary cell phone law has been in effect — more than 108,000 tickets were issued to cell phone violators. Clearly, the law is being enforced, and this new effort will further the good work police departments throughout New Jersey are already doing to stop cell phone violators."

New Jersey Steps Up Cell Phone Law Enforcement...
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Drivers Impaired Just by Listening to Cell Phone

Listening drivers make mistakes similar to drunken drivers

Just listening to a cell phone while driving is a significant distraction, and it causes some of the same types of mistakes as drunk drivers make, according to scientists at Carnegie Mellon University.

The use of cell phones, including dialing and texting, has long been a safety concern for drivers. But the Carnegie Mellon study, for the first time, used brain imaging to document that listening alone reduces by 37 percent the amount of brain activity associated with driving.

This can cause drivers to weave out of their lane, based on the performance of subjects using a driving simulator.

The findings, to be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Brain Research, show that making cell phones hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating distractions to drivers.

Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel; they also have to keep their brains on the road, said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging.

Other distractions, such as eating, listening to the radio or talking with a passenger, also can divert a driver. Though it is not known how these activities compare with cell phone use, Just said there are reasons to believe cell phones may be especially distracting.

Talking on a cell phone has a special social demand, such that not attending to the cell conversation can be interpreted as rude, insulting behavior, he noted. A passenger, by contrast, is likely to recognize increased demands on the drivers attention and stop talking.

The 29 study volunteers used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. They steered a car along a virtual winding road at a fixed, challenging speed, either while they were undisturbed, or while they were deciding whether a sentence they heard was true or false.

Justs team used state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to measure activity in 20,000 brain locations, each about the size of a peppercorn. Measurements were made every second.

The driving-while-listening condition produced a 37 percent decrease in activity of the brains parietal lobe, which is associated with driving. This portion of the brain integrates sensory information and is critical for spatial sense and navigation. Activity was also reduced in the occipital lobe, which processes visual information.

The other impact of driving-while-listening was a significant deterioration in the quality of driving.

Subjects who were listening committed more lane maintenance errors, such as hitting a simulated guardrail, and deviating from the middle of the lane.

Both kinds of influences decrease the brains capacity to drive well, and that decrease can be costly when the margin for error is small.

The clear implication is that engaging in a demanding conversation could jeopardize judgment and reaction time if an atypical or unusual driving situation arose, Just said. Heavy traffic is no place for an involved personal or business discussion, let alone texting.

Because driving and listening draw on two different brain networks, scientists had previously suspected that the networks could work independently on each task. But Just said this study demonstrates that there is only so much the brain can do at one time, no matter how different the two tasks are.

The study emerges from the new field of neuroergonomics, which combines brain science with human-computer interaction studies that measure how well a technology matches human capabilities. Neuroergonomics is beginning to be applied to the operation of vehicles like aircraft, ships and cars in which drivers now have navigation systems, iPods and even DVD players at their disposal.

Every additional input to a driver consumes some of his or her brain capacity, taking away some of the resources that monitor for other vehicles, lane markers, obstacles, and sudden changes in conditions.

Drivers seats in many vehicles are becoming highly instrumented cockpits, Just said, and during difficult driving situations, they require the undivided attention of the drivers brain.

Drivers Impaired Just by Listening to Cell Phone...
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Study: Drivers Using Cell Phones As Bad As Drunks

Driving While Distracted

Three years after the preliminary results first were presented at a scientific meeting and drew wide attention, University of Utah psychologists have published a study showing that motorists who talk on both handheld and hands-free cell phones are as impaired as drunken drivers.

"We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit" of 0.08 percent, which is the minimum level that defines illegal drunken driving in most U.S. states, says study co-author Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology.

"If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving."

Psychology Professor David Strayer, the study's lead author, adds: "Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive. The level of impairment is very similar."

"Clearly the safest course of action is to not use a cell phone while driving," concludes the study by Strayer, Drews and Dennis Crouch, a research associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology. The study was set for publication June 29 in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

The study reinforced earlier research by Strayer and Drews showing that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld cell phones because the conversation itself not just manipulation of a handheld phone distracts drivers from road conditions.

Human Factors Editor Nancy J. Cooke praised the study.

"Although we all have our suspicions about the dangers of cell phone use while driving, human factors research on driver safety helps us move beyond mere suspicions to scientific observations of driver behavior," she said.

The study first gained public notice after Strayer presented preliminary results in July 2003 in Park City, Utah, during the Second International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training and Vehicle Design. It took until now for the study to be completed, undergo review by other researchers and finally be published.

Different Driving Styles, Similar Impairment

Each of the study's 40 participants "drove" a PatrolSim driving simulator four times: once each while undistracted, using a handheld cell phone, using a hands-free cell phone and while intoxicated to the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level after drinking vodka and orange juice. Participants followed a simulated pace car that braked intermittently.

Both handheld and hands-free cell phones impaired driving, with no significant difference in the degree of impairment.

That "calls into question driving regulations that prohibited handheld cell phones and permit hands-free cell phones," the researchers write.

The study found that compared with undistracted drivers:

• Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance as their attention switched between driving and conversing, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car. All were talking on cell phones. None were drunk.

• Drivers drunk at the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level drove a bit more slowly than both undistracted drivers and drivers using cell phones, yet more aggressively. They followed the pace car more closely, were twice as likely to brake only four seconds before a collision would have occurred, and hit their brakes with 23 percent more force.

"Neither accident rates, nor reaction times to vehicles braking in front of the participant, nor recovery of lost speed following braking differed significantly" from undistracted drivers, the researchers write.

"Impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk," they conclude.

Are Drunken Drivers Less Accident-Prone?

Drews says the lack of accidents among the study's drunken drivers was surprising. He and Strayer speculate that because simulated drives were conducted during mornings, participants who got drunk were well-rested and in the "up" phase of intoxication.

In reality, 80 percent of all fatal alcohol-related accidents occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. when drunken drivers tend to be fatigued. Average blood-alcohol levels in those accidents are twice 0.08 percent. Forty percent of the roughly 42,000 annual U.S. traffic fatalities involve alcohol.

While none of the study's intoxicated drivers crashed, their hard, late braking is "predictive of increased accident rates over the long run," the researchers wrote.

One statistical analysis of the new and previous Utah studies showed cell phone users were 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. Other studies have shown the risk is about the same as for drivers with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level.

Strayer says he expects criticism "suggesting that we are trivializing drunken-driving impairment, but it is anything but the case. We don't think people should drive while drunk, nor should they talk on their cell phone while driving."

Drews says he and Strayer compared the impairment of motorists using cell phones to drivers with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level because they wanted to determine if the risk of driving while phoning was comparable to the drunken driving risk considered unacceptable.

"This study does not mean people should start driving drunk," says Drews. "It means that driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as or maybe worse than driving drunk, which is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by society."

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Cell Phone No. 1 Driver Distraction

Drivers who dont pay attention or are distracted are three times as likely to be involved in a crash

Drivers who don't pay attention or are distracted are three times as likely to be involved in a crash as drivers who pay attention to the road and don't ea...

Driver Error #1 Cause of Teen Fatalities

Speeding and alcohol use are close behind

Driver error is the leading cause (77%) of fatal crashes among teen drivers, a study finds, followed by speeding (38%) and alcohol (less than 25%).

Despite improvements in highways, safer cars and restrictive driving laws, the number of teen deaths attributed to teen motor-vehicle crashes has remained consistent at nearly 6,000 fatalities per year for the past 10 years, the Allstate Foundation study found.

In addition, each year, more than 300,000 teens are injured as a result of a teen crash.

Recent research into adolescent brain development may explain why established teen driver-education programs have not been more effective in reducing teen crash statistics, study suggested.

"Areas involved in multi-tasking, impulse control and the ability to envision consequences, areas crucial for driving, are still developing until age 25," according to the report.

Here are some common attitudes the survey found among teen drivers:

If I'm sober, I'm safe. Teens appear to believe drinking and driving is the major cause of crashes when in fact, drinking is a factor in 13 percent of crashes involving 16-year-olds and less than 25 percent overall. The reality is that 75 percent of teen deaths on the road are due to speeding and driver error.

More than half (56%) of teens make and answer phone calls while driving. Thirteen percent (an estimated 1.6 million teens) drive while reading or writing text messages. Forty-seven percent said passengers sometimes distract them.

Speeding is normal. Although speeding causes almost half of all teen-driving fatalities, teens say speeding is part of the daily driving experience. Sixty-nine percent of teen drivers that speed said they do so to keep up with traffic.

One out of four self-identified aggressive teen drivers (26%) reported speeding by more than 20 miles an hour over the limit. Four times as many males as females (25% vs. 6%) said they speed because it is "fun."

Sixty-four percent polled speed up to go through a yellow light.

It's not me, it's them Most teens believe they are good drivers and it's other teens that drive recklessly.

Forty-three percent classified their own driving as "somewhat" or "very defensive" behind the wheel. Sixty-two percent called their peers "somewhat" or "very aggressive" drivers.

Nearly 70 percent of teens say they've felt unsafe when someone else was driving but less than half (45%) said they would speak up in such an instance.

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Crash Risk Four Times Higher When Driver is On the Phone

The study was conducted in Australia because American cell phone carriers refused to cooperate

A study of of Australian drivers reports that the use of any cell phone, hands-free or otherwise, carries a four-fold higher risk of serious accidents. It's the latest in an accumulating body of evidence that finds cell phone user a major factor in highway accidents.

The study was conducted in Australia because American cell phone carriers refused to cooperate.

The increased risk was estimated by comparing phone use within 10 minutes before an actual crash occurred with use by the same driver during the prior week. Subjects were drivers treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries suffered in crashes from April 2002 to July 2004.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, "Role of cellular phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance," was published in the British Medical Journal.

"The main finding of a fourfold increase in injury crash risk was consistent across groups of drivers," said Anne McCartt, Institute vice president for research and an author of the study. "Male and female drivers experienced about the same increase in risk from using a phone. So did drivers older and younger than 30 and drivers using hand-held and hands-free phones."

Weather wasn't a factor in the crashes, almost 75 percent of which occurred in clear conditions. Eighty-nine percent of the crashes involved other vehicles. More than half of the injured drivers reported that their crashes occurred within 10 minutes of the start of the trip.

The study was conducted in the Western Australian city of Perth. The Institute first tried to conduct this research in the United States, but U.S. phone companies were unwilling to make customers' billing records available, even with permission from the drivers. Phone records could be obtained in Australia, and the researchers got a high rate of cooperation among drivers who had been in crashes.

Another reason for conducting the study in Australia was to estimate crash risk in a jurisdiction where hand-held phone use is banned. It has been illegal while driving in Western Australia since July 2001. Still one-third of the drivers said their calls had been placed on hand-held phones.

Hands-free versus hand-held

The results suggest that banning hand-held phone use won't necessarily enhance safety if drivers simply switch to hands-free phones. Injury crash risk didn't differ from one type of reported phone use to the other.

"This isn't intuitive. You'd think using a hands-free phone would be less distracting, so it wouldn't increase crash risk as much as using a hand-held phone. But we found that either phone type increased the risk," McCartt says. "This could be because the so-called hands-free phones that are in common use today aren't really hands-free. We didn't have sufficient data to compare the different types of hands-free phones, such as those that are fully voice activated."

Evidence of risk is mounting

The findings of the Institute study, based on the experience of about 500 drivers, are consistent with 1997 research that showed phone use was associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of a property damage crash. This Canadian study also used cell phone billing records to establish the increase in risk. The Institute's new study is the second to use phone records and the first to estimate whether and how much phone use increases the risk of an injury crash.

Taken together, the two studies confirm that the distractions associated with phone use contribute significantly to crashes.

Other studies have been published about cell phone use while driving, but most have been small-scale and have involved simulated or instrumented driving, not the actual experience of drivers on the road. When researchers have tried to assess the effects of phone use on real-world crashes, they usually have relied on police reports for information. But such reports aren't reliable because, without witnesses, police cannot determine whether a crash-involved driver was using a phone.

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Feds Say Hands-Free Cell Phone Use Ineffective

Cell Phone Use Contributes to Crashes

Government researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have concluded that using a cell phone while driving is a major cause of traffic accidents, and that hands-free devices have little safety benefit.

Regulators from NHTSA and researchers from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute watched 100 drivers for a year. They report that cell phone use precipitated many crashes and near misses.

The research group used cameras and sensors to track activities inside a vehicle, recording crashes, near crashes and evasive maneuvers.

The study showed such events and maneuvers were often preceded by the driver being distracted by the use of a cell phone or other electronic device. There were nearly 700 incidents involving such wireless devices, the study found.

The study was published as Connecticut enacted a new law banning handheld cell-phone use by drivers. New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Chicago have approved similar measures.

The new federal research also adds to what experts say is a growing body of evidence that suggests hands-free cell phones will not deliver the safety benefits consumers, automakers and legislators hoped for.

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Hands-Free Phones Safer, Study Finds

The study is one of the few to analyze physical impairment experienced while driving and using a mobile phone

A new study finds that drivers' reaction time, accuracy and consistency of speed improved significantly when they used a headset with their cell phone, compared with using a handheld phone.

The study is one of the few to analyze physical impairment experienced while driving and using a mobile phone; to date most other studies have focused solely on the mental distraction of using a mobile phone while driving.

The study was commissioned by Plantronics, which manufactures headsets. It was conducted by Design Science, an independent human factors research firm that has conducted other driving-related studies for a wide range of organizations including the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Many traffic safety experts contend that the use of any kind of cell phone -- hands-free or otherwise -- creates a dangerous distraction for drivers. Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York have outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

"Our study is not intended to address the issue of whether or not it is safe to talk on a mobile phone while driving, but rather what type of technology is safest for drivers to use while talking on their mobile phones," said Beth Johnson, Plantronics senior director of product marketing.

Researchers used a driving simulator to compare the driving ability of subjects using a mobile phone under two conditions -- one holding a mobile phone, and the other using a headset, leaving their hands free.

"The central question of our study was, 'For a person using a mobile phone, does driving improve if he or she uses a headset?' What the research showed is that, across all conditions, the answer is a resounding yes," said Stephen Wilcox, Ph.D., Principal of Design Science.

"Driving with both hands on the wheel is the safest option for motorists who use mobile phones, and headsets are tools to enable that improvement."

The driving performance of 24 subjects in three major categories was measured: steering accuracy, braking reaction time and speed variability. Key initial findings of the research found:

• 71% of the test subjects steered more accurately when using a headset;
• 100% of the test subjects had faster brake reaction times when using a headset;
• 92% of the test subjects maintained a more consistent speed when using a headset.


Hands-Free Phones Safer, Study Finds...
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Make a Call, Get a Ticket

D.C., New Jersey Join New York in Banning Cell Phones While Driving

Attention motor-mouths: effective July 1, you can be fined $100 or more for holding a cell phone while driving in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey. New York has had a similar law since 2001.

The New Jersey fine can climb as high as $250 if there are aggravating circumstances, but Garden State police say they won't actually pull motorists over for driving and gabbing unless there's another infraction -- like expired plates or reckless driving.

New York and Washington, D.C., police can stop motorists simply for driving and chatting and D.C. police say they'll do so, at least for the first few weeks the new law's in effect.

Critics say the new laws won't have much effect.

The critics include the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the organization that represents state highway safety agencies. It is discouraging other states from passing hand- held cell phone legislation.

The association says hand-held cell phone bans send the wrong message to drivers -- giving them a false sense of safety by implying that it's safe to use hands-free cell phones while driving. The association says any distraction is a safety hazard.

Research conducted for AAA by the University of North Carolina last year indicated that reading and writing, eating, adjusting the radio, interacting with others in the car and grooming, as well as cell phone use, were major distractions.

Employing in-car video cameras to observe how drivers behave, the study concluded that all drivers in the study had been distracted to some degree, 90 percent by something outside the car and 100 percent by something inside the car.

"The AAA research reaffirms that cell phones are the distraction that drivers love to hate, but in fact they are just one of many that drivers encounter on a daily basis. Anything that takes a driver's attention away from the task at hand can be potentially fatal, said Kathryn Swanson, Chair of GHSA.

The Yankee Group, a Boston-based communications and networking research and consulting company, estimates that about 44 percent of all adult cell phone usage in 2003 was done in a vehicle.



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