Texting while driving affects a driver's reaction time far more than thought - more than doubling it, says a Texas Transportation Institute research team.
The study was the first published work in the US to examine texting while driving in an actual driving environment – and we should all be thankful we weren't around.
Participants typed a story of their choice and read and answered questions related to another story, both on their smart phone in a laboratory setting.
They then navigated a test-track course, first without texting, and then while separately repeating both lab tasks. Throughout the test-track exercise, each participant’s reaction time to a periodic flashing light was recorded.
Reaction times with no texting activity were typically between one and two seconds - but doubled while texting. Worse, drivers were more than 11 times more likely to miss the flashing light altogether when they were texting.
Drivers were also far poorer at maintaining proper lane position and a constant speed.
The 11-mile track was completely straight, and contained no hills, traffic or potential conflicts other than a set of construction zone barrels.
"It is frightening," write the researchers, "to think of how much more poorly our participants may have performed if the driving conditions were more consistent with routine driving."
Recently, a man was convicted in Britain - where texting behind the wheel is banned - for driving while texting, reading a book and filling in a form, all at the same time.