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Directions in Highway Safety, Summer 2009 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Summer 2009 | Vol. 12 | No. 2

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Virginia Tech Study Draws Attention to Cell Phone and Texting Risk

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) has released its results from a study that observed and documented real-world driving habits. The research used cameras in participants’ personal vehicles, including light vehicles as well as trucks, and documented over 6 million miles of driving. Their findings show that manual manipulation of phones, such as dialing and texting, are associated with a much higher risk for a crash than “cognitively intense” tasks like hands-free phone use or bookson- tape.

“Given recent catastrophic crash events and disturbing trends, there is an alarming amount of misinformation and confusion regarding cell phone and texting use while behind the wheel of a vehicle. The findings from our research at VTTI can help begin to clear up these misconceptions as it is based on real-world driving data. We conduct transportation safety research in an effort to equip the public with information that can save lives,” says Dr. Tom Dingus, director of VTTI.

Anything that draws the driver’s eyes away from the road was found to have the highest risk. In fact, VTTI’s study shows that not only does text messaging increase the risk for a crash 20 times over driving without a phone, but texting also led to the longest duration of eyes off the road. The study says the average time for eyes off the road was 4.6 seconds over a 6 second interval; that is equivalent to the length of a football field when traveling 55 mph.

Even though talking and listening to a cell phone involves safety risks, the researchers indicate these practices are not nearly as risky since drivers can keep their eyes on the road. Previous research has indicated that talking and listening to a cell phone is the equivalent of drunk driving at the legal limit, but the researchers at VTTI say this is an exaggeration. If this were the case, the researchers note, than the number of fatal crashes due to cell phone use would have increased nearly 50 percent in the last decade rather than staying, for the most part, unchanged.

To view the press release of this study, visit

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