“I regularly text my girlfriend while I drive, but I read the other day some article that says that texting while driving can cause accidents, serious ones. Do you think that is true? I mean, I know what I’m doing.”
There may be many of the 40% of South African motorists who, like the person above, can be quite dismissive about the serious consequences of texting and mobile phone use while driving, and have no idea what impact such distracting activity can have on their driving.
Let us look at how the use of mobile phones can affect the way people drive.
USING A MOBILE PHONE CAUSES DETERIORATION IN DRIVING BEHAVIOUR
It is not possible to maintain full concentration on your driving while at the same time engaging with someone on the phone. So, as a result of this diminished concentration, the risk of not taking the right course of action when running into danger is greatly increased.1 The effects of using mobile phones on driving behaviour are well established, but only when all the different research approaches are considered collectively will there be a trustworthy answer.
WHICH AREAS OF DRIVING BEHAVIOUR ARE AFFECTED WHEN YOU USE A CELL PHONE?
When drivers use a mobile phone, they are distracted by taking their:
- Eyes off the road
- Minds off the road
- Hands off the steering wheel
A hearing distraction can also occur, when e.g. a mobile phone suddenly rings, but this distraction does not last that long.
DRIVING TASKS AFFECTED BY MOBILE PHONE USE
The following driving tasks are affected by mobile phone use:
- Longer reaction times to deal with the situation on the road
- Difficulty to stay in the correct lane
- Slow to brake in time, which can end up with screeching tyres to prevent impact
- Inability to stay at the required speed, with drivers usually driving quite slowly
- Slow to obey traffic signals
- Not looking in side mirrors as mobile phone users usually look ahead
- Tailgating or maintaining shorter following distances
- Going for gaps in the traffic flow which are underestimated
- Greater mental stress as the driver has too many things on his or her mind
- Rather clueless as to what is happening around such a driver
HOW DOES DISTRACTION AFFECT DRIVING PERFORMANCE?
The degree to which a distracting task can affect driving performance depends on its:
- The situation on the road
Typing a text message or dialling a phone number is a short distraction, but convincing evidence indicates that talking on the mobile phone is the main cause of a deterioration of driver behaviour.1
DRIVER CHARACTERISTICS ALSO AFFECT DRIVING BEHAVIOUR
The following driver characteristics also determine to what extent the distraction affects driving behaviour:
- AGE: The younger generation seem to be the most involved with mobile phones, and to make it worse, they have the least driving experience. The retired generation, for instance, are also much slower in their reaction times anyway, and so this would add to the risk while phoning and driving.
- DRIVER EXPERIENCE: Young drivers are the most easily distracted, because certain brain functions are not yet fully developed. 5 This in turn increases the risk of poor driving behaviour compared to older drivers.
- TAKING RISKS: Those who like to drink and drive, speed and not wear a safety belt are also more likely to be using a mobile phone during driving, and this of course makes the likelihood of crashing even greater.
After all that has been said, the fact remains that using a mobile phone increases the certainty of an accident, irrespective of age or driving experience.
HOW DOES TEXT MESSAGING AFFECT DRIVING BEHAVIOUR?
Although more research is required in this area, current work shows that texting has a serious the effect on driver behaviour:1
- Drivers taking their eyes off the road increased by 400%
- Drivers exited lanes 28% more often, and 140% more incorrect lane changes
Texting drivers usually tried to compensate for this by reducing tailgating, and driving slower.
A staggering 40% of South African motorists have admitted to texting, emailed, or surfed the net while driving, according to a 2014 survey.2 Although the survey only involved 14160 drivers, if this percentage is extrapolated to the total of 12 027 860 vehicles registered in South Africa as of February 2017,3 then this would mean that, potentially, about 4.8 million drivers could be involved. Texting has a serious impact on driving. What texting does is that it reduces the brake-reaction speed by a staggering 18%, which means that when you realize it is time to brake, it is actually too late.
A well-known real issue facing all texting drivers is their need to realize that they potentially place themselves into a position of being able to kill someone or themselves on the road. What happens when you are busy texting, and you skip a traffic light, or if a little child runs into the road? Surely, no amount of texting is worth the loss of either your life or someone else’s, or both?
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Assembly that texting while driving is an ever-increasing “global killer”, and that this serious threat to human life is not being adequately addressed.4
THE EFFECT OF USING A CELL PHONE ON DRIVING BEHAVIOUR
It is really difficult to establish whether the use of a mobile phone was used at the time of a crash, because there is such little documented evidence. Studies show that the use of a mobile phone does increase the risk of having an accident. Other studies show that mobile phone use increases the accident risk by a factor of 4, with this risk level being the same for hand-held phones and hands-free devices.1
HOW DOES MOBILE PHONE USE COMPARE WITH DRINK-DRIVING?
Some studies show that the effect of drink-driving is about the same as that of mobile phone use. In fact, one study in the UK showed that mobile phone use had a greater detrimental effect on driving then drivers having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit.1 It must be remembered, though, that the impairing effect of mobile phone use is much shorter compared to the considerably longer effect of the use of alcohol. In addition, drivers using the mobile phone can exercise control (such as pausing the conversation), whereas a drunk driver would have no control.
It has been mentioned that, globally, according to statistics from Texting and Driving Safety, a driver texting is considered to be 6 times more likely to cause an accident compared to being drunk behind the wheel,2 neither are good behaviours.
THE IMPACT OF MOBILE PHONES ON DRIVING TRUCKS AND BUSES
A US study revealed that commercial drivers talking on or listening to a mobile phone (hand-held or hands-free) did not cause much risk, but dialling and texting increased the risk of a crash.1 This may be blamed on the fact that the latter would be a physical distraction, and not a mental one. However, other studies show different results, depending on what methods were used. More research is required.
— Arrive Alive (@_ArriveAlive) September 12, 2017
This article was prepared by Eric Sandmann in his personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views and opinions of Prime Meridian Direct (Pty) Ltd, FSP41040.The views and opinions in the article should not be attributed to anyone but the author unless expressly stated. Nothing in this article should be relied upon as advice, this publication is presented for informational purposes only. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found in this article, without first obtaining proper financial advice from the appropriate professional. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, or completeness, of any information linked from, referred to, or contained in this article. The author reserves the right, to edit and change the content of this article.