by Christen Brownlee Men's Health
Whatever you're typing, it can wait.
If the recent statewide bans on texting while driving weren’t big enough clues, here’s proof the combination is even worse than you think: According to a new study from the Texas Transportation Institute, sending and reading texts when you’re behind the wheel can double your normal reaction time, putting you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road in major danger.
Researchers at Texas A&M University tested people’s texting abilities while they drove a tricked-out Toyota Highlander full of sensors down a closed course. Drivers took twice as long to switch off a light on the car hood while texting as they did when they were cruising without their phones. And even though each driver was told to stay at 30 mph, they drove significantly slower and weaved more frequently when they texted.
This is the first study to test people’s reaction times while texting and driving on an actual road. Previous research, including a 2009 study in Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, only measured reaction times in lab simulations.
Lead researcher Christine Yager, E.I.T., says that when she timed how long participants’ eyes strayed from the course, at least one driver looked away for five seconds. “The amount of distance you can travel in that time period is quite shocking,” she says. At 30 mph, it’s 220 feet—but at typical highway speeds of 60 mph, it’s longer than a football field.
Yager points out that no one has done a scientific study to compare drunk driving with texting and driving. But a non-scientific study by Car and Driver in 2009 suggested that drunk driving may actually be safer than texting and driving: The participant in the study actually had a quicker reaction time with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent than when sober and texting.
If you insist on carrying out a conversation in the car, try using an app that automatically replies to texts, like the free Drive Safe.ly for iPhone. The app will read aloud your e-mails or texts so you won’t have to take your eyes off the road for a second. (The downside: The temptation to respond.) After reading your message, the app sends an auto-reply to the sender saying you’re unavailable.