_TECHNOLOGY Psychology

_Texting While Driving

Texting while driving is dangerous, practically everyone knows it, and a lot of people do it anyway.

_Maria Schultheis

Schultheis is an associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training, with an interest in neurorehabilitation, application of technology to psychology, virtual reality technology, driving capacity after neurological compromise, and rehabilitation of everyday functional activities.

Texting while driving is dangerous, practically everyone knows it, and a lot of people do it anyway.

That’s the widely reported finding of a new AT&T survey about texting while driving: More than 98 percent of adult drivers know it’s unsafe, but almost half of them admitted to doing it anyway.

Some drivers may try to rationalize that they put the phone away under tough driving conditions, when the road truly demands their full attention—complex traffic patterns, winding or slippery roads, highway speeds—but is that enough to reduce the danger?

A recent Drexel University study suggests that even under the simplest driving conditions, texting is still unsafe.

The study, led by psychology graduate student Joshua McKeever and co-authored with his advisor, Dr. Maria Schultheis, an associate professor, used a virtual reality driving simulation setup to test driving behavior under controlled conditions.

Unlike most studies that use virtual-reality simulation for driving, this one didn’t ramp up the difficulty settings. The young adult participants practiced driving through a simulated easy route with minimal demands or distractions. The study authors noted that, even compared to real-world driving, the conditions they simulated were “considerably easier and simpler.”

After some practice driving and a baseline drive, they were asked to perform “distraction” tasks along the way, either texting or tuning the car radio.

Even under the simple simulated driving conditions, performing a task such as texting while driving was associated with greater lane deviation—a danger sign of driver distraction. Plus, the texting tasks took drivers almost twice as long to complete compared to the radio-tuning task—meaning drivers who are texting are distracted for a longer time.

The study was small, but Schultheis pointed out that she and McKeever found interesting differences in the type of phones participants used, too. (All participants used their own cell phones in the experiment.) For instance, she notes that texting took longer on touchscreen phones than on some other types of phones, again extending the duration of time over which drivers are distracted.