Effective today, it is illegal to send text messages and a secondary offense to receive text messages or emails while operating a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Bout time, I say. Texting and driving is about as irresponsible and reprehensible as driving while intoxicated.
According to research conducted recently by textfreedriving.org, 57 percent of drivers admit to texting while driving, with the most active texters being 16- to 17-year-olds. That group has long led the nation in fatal car crashes, even before the prevalence of cell phones and texting capability.
While anyone with half a brain must assume texting while driving impairs the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, Car and Driver magazine decided to test if texting while driving is a dangerous idea.
In its August 2009 issue, Car and Driver says that previous academic studies, conducted in vehicle simulators, have shown that texting while driving impairs the driver’s abilities. But as far as Car and Driver knows, no studies have been conducted in a real vehicle that is being driven.
Further, Car and Driver decided to compare results of driving while texting to the effects of drunk driving on the same day and under the exact same conditions. The magazine decided to focus solely on the driver’s reaction times to a light mounted on the windshield at eye level, meant to simulate the brake lights of a car ahead.
The magazine rented an airport runway in Michigan. Test subjects were required to use devices with full “qwerty” keyboards commonly in use today. The test vehicle was a Honda Pilot SUV.
Test subjects were chosen to represent different age groups. One was a 22 year old armed with an iPhone. The other (there were only two) was 37 years old and used a Samsung Alias. A person rode along with each test subject and activated the red light, then recorded results using some sophisticated test equipment.
The reaction times of the subjects were first tested at 35 mph and 70 mph to get a baseline, then tested while they read aloud a text message. That was followed by a test in which the drivers typed that same text message while driving.
Anyone familiar with Car and Driver magazine knows that it can be highly irreverent. The next “test” shows us how zany these guys can get. They had the test drivers get slightly intoxicated drinking vodka and orange juice. They blew into a breath-alcohol analyzer until they reached the legal driving limit, then they ran the same brake light test at the speeds specified in the text messaging test.
The results? Without citing all the specific numbers, suffice it to say that reaction times while driving and texting were terrible. For example, in the younger subject’s slowest reaction time at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet while reading before hitting the brakes and 16 feet longer while texting. The older guy did worse in the text test at the same speed, traveling an extra 45 and 41 feet respectively before hitting the brakes.
Shockingly, the intoxicated numbers were better than the texting numbers, but Car and Driver says they only look better because the texting numbers were bloody awful.
The moral is clear: texting and driving is dangerous. Thankfully, Virginia recognized this and took action. Now we’ll see how enforcement goes.