Drivers of heavy trucks who were texting while driving were at a 23 times greater risk of a crash or near crash than those who were not, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported last night.
The findings of a series of studies (pdf format) released by the institute also showed that the risk to truck drivers was much higher from texting than from dialing a cell phone. The institute also found that talking or listening to a cell phone while driving a heavy truck caused no distraction.
For drivers of light trucks and cars, talking and listening slightly increased the risk of a crash or near crash, while dialing a cell phone was 2.8 times more likely to cause a crash. Texting distraction for car drivers was not reported in the institute's summary.
The findings are based on observing drivers in real-world road conditions using cameras and instruments installed in participants' vehicles. Overall, drivers were observed over 6 million miles of driving.
The cameras were used to make analyses of eye glance movements to assess where the drivers were looking. The tasks that drew the driver's eyes away from the forward roadway were judged to have the highest risk.
In light of the findings, the institute said texting should be banned in moving vehicles for all drivers, a step taken in 14 states and supported by some cell phone industry groups.
Similar to other recent studies conducted at the University of Utah involving driving simulators, Virginia Tech reported that using a headset cell phone is not substantially safer than a handheld because of the risks associated with answering, dialing and other tasks requiring a driver to take his eyes off the road.
The institute also suggested banning all cell phone use for newly licensed teen drivers, partly because they engage in cell phone tasks more frequently than adults. There are various laws in 23 states banning cell phone use for the youngest drivers. Teens in the Virginia Tech studies of cell phone use and texting while driving were four times more likely to get into a crash or near crash than adults.