Studying the Obvious

Guest Bloggers

Guest Bloggers | Feb 07, 2010

Some have accused us of studying the obvious. In our defense, I would note that what might seem to be obvious might not be true. Case in point: Six state legislatures have passed laws that prohibit using hand held cell phones while driving, but permitting the use of hands free devices (a seemingly obvious solution to driver distraction caused by cell phones). Fact is, the crash risk for hand held phones is the same as it is for hands free phones and a recent analysis found that these laws have not reduced crashes.

But, a scientific analysis establishing that what seems to be obvious is really true is also important. Case in point: Text messaging while driving. Over 90 percent of drivers think this is unsafe, even though half of all teens text while driving.

My colleague Frank Drews and I found that the odds of crashing while texting was 8 times higher than when the driver was not distracted. To put that number in perspective, the odds of crashing while driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 (the legal limit in all 50 states) was 4 times higher than for the unimpaired driver. Text messaging while driving is, in fact, riskier than driving while intoxicated at the legal limit. Don't drink and drive AND don't text and drive!

We also looked at people who claimed to be experts at texting and found that they weren't any better. Text messaging takes drivers' eyes off the road for several seconds to read a message and many of the predictive text messaging features fill in the words that are not desired (e.g., T9 doesn't know if you are "mad" or "sad").

Sometimes it helps to have a sound scientific basis for the obvious.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One