Driver Distraction Continues Almost 30 Seconds After Text is Sent, Research Reveals

Groundbreaking research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals that the distraction drivers experience using voice activated technology - or their smartphones - to make a call, change music or send a text can linger for almost 30 seconds after the task is complete. “This should be a wakeup call to anyone who feels safe texting while sitting at a red light”, says AAA spokesperson Amy Parmenter. “Just because you can hit the gas when the light turns green, doesn’t mean you’re good to go.”report

Researchers studying various push-to-talk technologies found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction lasted for as long as 27 seconds after completing a task in the worst-performing systems. And, at the 25 MPH speed limit in the study, drivers traveled the length of nearly three football fields during this time. Using the least distracting systems, drivers still remained impaired for more than 15 seconds.

The researchers discovered the residual effects of mental distraction while comparing the voice activated technology in ten 2015 vehicles and three types of smart phones. The analysis found that all systems studied increased mental distraction to potentially unsafe levels.

“Automakers often promote everything their connected cars can do, but this research paints a frightening picture of what drivers can’t do if they use the popular features” Parmenter says. “Hands free does not mean risk free. It’s that simple”.Phase-III-Social-Media-Graphic-1

Last month, CT by the Numbers reported that in-car electronics that allow drivers to listen to, read and send text messages while at the wheel may be skirting the spirit, if not the letter, of Connecticut law.  In Connecticut, Public Act 10-109, enacted in 2010, states that “no person shall operate a motor vehicle … while using a hand-held mobile telephone to engage in a call or while using a mobile electronic device while such vehicle is in motion. An operator of a motor vehicle who types, sends or reads a text message with a hand-held mobile telephone or mobile electronic device while such vehicle is in motion shall be in violation of this section.”

In the AAA study, researchers rated driver distraction on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being relatively safe, about equal to listening to the radio, and 5 being highly challenging in such a way as to overload the driver’s attention. The best performing system was the Chevy Equinox with a cognitive distraction rating of 2.4, while the worst performing system was the Mazda 6 with a cognitive distraction rating of 4.6.

The systems that performed best generally had fewer errors, required less time on task and were relatively easy to use.  The researchers also studied voice activated smartphone technology and found that Google Now outperformed Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana but, they say, all were dangerously distracting with ratings of 3.1, 3.4 and 3.8 respectively.

Dr. David Strayer and Dr. Joel Cooper of the University of Utah conducted the research. A total of 257 drivers ages 21-70 participated in the study of 2015 model-year vehicles, while 65 additional drivers ages 21-68 tested the three phone systems. Over the last two weeks, AAA has shared its findings with policymakers, safety advocates and manufacturers in hopes of improving the safety of future technology.


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Two-Thirds of Drivers Use Cell Phones While Driving Despite Dangers, Survey Says

It turns out that the problems is much greater than just teens.  Texting while driving – like texting – is cutting across the population, presenting dangers that are well-documented and increasingly ignored.  And it’s not only texting – it is the use of phones while driving as well that is causing concerns among safety experts.

New research from the AAA FoundOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAation for Traffic Safety indicates that high school-aged teens report using their phones or texting while driving substantially less often than adults do.  The AAA survey found that adult drivers ages 25-39 were the most likely to admit engaging in these risky behaviors behind the wheel.

Though the practice is hazardous at any age, two out of three drivers reported using a cell phone while driving within the past month. Forty-three percent of adults ages 25-39 reported doing so fairly often or regularly while driving, compared to only 20 percent of teens.  Motorists age 60 and up were the least likely to report using a phone.

“Using your phone while driving may seem safe, but it roughly quadruples your risk of being in a crash according to previous research,” said Stephen Rourke, manager of driving school administration for AAA. “None of us is immune from the dangers of distracted driving. The best advice is to hang up and drive.”AAA age

More than one-in-four motorists reported sending a text or email while driving within the past month. Adults ages 25-39 reported texting and driving most frequently, while those age 60 and up reported doing it the least.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one out of every ten fatal crashes involves distraction, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths per year, although experts agree the numbers are likely underestimated.

Previous research shows that hands-free cell phones offer no significant safety benefits over handheld phones – hands-free is not risk-free.  Earlier this year, Connecticut by the Numbers reported on a proposal in Connecticut to ban the useAAA text chart of electronic devices in vehicles.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety collected the data as part of the 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index. The data are from a sample of 2,325 licensed drivers, ages 16 and older, who reported driving in the past 30 days.

Half of Eligible Teenagers Delay Drivers License, Study Finds

In an unexpected sign of the times, about half of the teenagers in the U.S. who are old enough to obtain a drivers license are waiting to do so, according to a new survey.  The most common reasons cited for delayed licensure were not having a car, being able to get around without driving, and costs associated with driving.

The study, by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that less than half (44 percent) of teens obtain a driver’s license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing and just over half (54 percent) are licensed before their 18th birthday. These findings mark a significant drop from two decades ago when data showed more than two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18, accordidelayed licenseng to AAA.

The report found “Large social and economic disparities in licensing rates and in the timing of licensure.” Low-income, African-American and Hispanic teens are the least likely to obtain a driver’s license before age 18.

Only 25 percent of teens living in households with incomes less than $20,000 obtained their license before they turned 18, while 79 percent of teens were licensed by their 18th birthday in households with incomes of $100,000 or more.

 The findings for licensure by age 18 also differed significantly by race and ethnicity, with 67 percent for non-Hispanic white teens, 37 percent for non-Hispanic black teens, and 29 percent for Hispanic teens.

Some had suggested that teens were waiting simply to avoid graduated driver’s licensing (GDL), missing both the limitations and benefits of the laws, which vary across states, aimed at improving new driver training and safety, and causing some concern.  The survey, however, did not find this to be a prominent reason in delayed licensing.  A number of other reasons for delaying licensure were cited, including:

  • 44 %– Did not have a car
  • 39 % – Could get around without driving
  • 36 %– Gas was too expensive
  • 36 % – Driving was too expensive
  • 35 % – Just didn’t get around to it

Many states impose the GDL restrictions only for new drivers younger than 18.  The AAA report indicated that “Given the  large proportion of new drivers who are 18 years old or older, further research is needed to investigate their levels of safety or risk, to evaluate the potential impacts of extending GDL systems to new drivers aged 18 and older, and to explore other ways to address the needs of older novice drivers.”

In Connecticut, anyone 18 years of age or older must hold an adult learner’s permit for 3 months before obtaining a driver's license.  The state Department of Motor Vehicles website outlines the procedures in Connecticut, which have been revised as recently as January 2013 based on new laws approved by the state legislature.

The proportion of teens who were licensed varied strongly by geographic region, the AAA study found: licensing rates were much higher in the Midwest (82%) than in the Northeast (64%), South (68%), or West (71%).

The study did not discern major variations by gender among teens.  Although males were slightly more likely than females to obtain a license within six months of their state’s minimum age (33% vs. 28%), females were actually slightly more likely than males to obtain a license within 1-2 months of their state’s minimum age.

The researchers surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 1,039 respondents ages 18-20. The full research report and results are available on the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website.

Hands-Free Electronics Are Hazardous to Driver Safety, State Ban Proposed

For the second time in recent weeks, a major driving safety study has concluded that hands-free devices produce dangers much the same as hand-held cell phones for drivers.  The latest study comes from AAA, following a study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, reported by Connecticut by the Numbers earlier this month.

Connecticut teen driving safety advocate Tim Hollister, who was a member of the Governor’s Safe Teen Driving Task Force in 2007-8 and publishes a national blog for parents of teen drivers, is calling for a ban on the use of electronic devices while driving, citing increasing evidence of the dangers of distracted driving.  His proposal, outlined in The Hartford Courant prior to the release of the AAA study:  "no driver of a vehicle in gear shall use any electronic device to text, type, read, watch a video or make a phone call."

Hollister pointed out that six leading public health and traffic safety organizations (World Health Organization, National Transportation Safety Council, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the Governor’s Highway Safety Association) “now agree that hands-free cellphone use is just as dangerous as hand-held.  Both cause cognitive blindness.”  The head of the National Transportation Safety Board agrees, having previously stated “we know that electronic devices that pull a driver’s attention away from his or her primary task are unsafe.”Internet-ready-driver-side-computer

Texting a friend verbally while behind the wheel caused a “large” amount of mental distraction compared with “moderate/significant” for holding a phone conversation or talking with a passenger and “small” when listening to music or an audio book, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found in the latest study, released this week, Bloomberg News and other national media widely reported.

Not a single state prohibits hands-free dialing, and neither state nor federal action appears on the horizon, despite initial efforts by NTSB more than a year ago.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  Even as evidence of hazards grows, so do the range of electronic options and efforts to develop more "connected" cars.

Using voice-to-text messaging, included in systems such as Ford Motor Co.’s Sync and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Entune, is more distracting to drivers than making calls with handheld mobile phones, the AAA found. The earlier study at Texas A&M also concluded that voice-to-text is as dangerous and traditional typed texting.

Two bills that offer responses to aspects of distracted driving – although not prohibiting the popular practice - were approved in the just-concluded Connecticut General Assembly session, according to media reports.

  • The first would give prosecutors the ability to seek up to $1,000 in fines, over criminal penalties, if a distracted driver hits and injures a jogger, pedestrian, horseback ride, and other lawful “vulnerable” roadway user.
  • The other bill adds distracted driving to the list of moving violations that would be made available to insurance companies. Currently, if someone disobeys the state’s distracted driving law, they pay a fine and the insurer doesn’t know about it.  The bill also increases fines and creates a task force to study distracted driving prevention.  Both await approval by Gov. Malloy.

Automakers have vigorously promoted voice-based messaging as a safer alternative to taking hands off the wheel to place a call or talk on a hand-held phone. The hands-free systems have not been opposed by the U.S. Transportation Secretary, but the head of the National Transportation Safety Board has expressed serious reservations.  Writing in the Washington Post in 2011, NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman pointed out that “studies published as early as 1997 and 2005 have shown that there is little difference between hands-free technology and handheld devices when it comes to cognitive distraction.”

About 9 million infotainment systems will be shipped this year in cars sold worldwide, with that number projected to rise to more than 62 million by 2018, according to a March report by London-based ABI Research.

With the addition of a new law passed in Hawaii this month, 40 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Guam have banned text messaging for all drivers using hand-held devices.  Hawaii becomes just the 11th state (including Connecticut, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands) to prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.

Voluntary guidelines recently issued (April 2013) by the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), recommended specific criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured.  The guidelines include recommendations to limit the time a driver must take his eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and twelve seconds total.

The back-to-back studies by the Texas Transportation Institute and AAA raise questions about those recently-issued recommendations.

Faces of Distracted Driving  USDOT video