Texting While Driving? You're Six Times More Likely to Crash

You're six times more likely to crash if you're texting and driving.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

A new study gives us more data backing up what we probably already knew:  Texting while driving is a really, really bad idea. According to the study, done by some University of Utah psychologists, drivers who text are six times more likely to crash than people giving their full attention to the road. And texting is actually markedly worse than talking while driving (which is also dangerous--even if you've got a hands-free device). According to the study, drivers' reaction time was 30 percent worse while texting but only 9 percent worse than when they were driving while speaking on the phone. Here's why, according to MSNBC's story on the study:

When talking on a cell phone, "drivers apparently attempt to divide attention between a phone conversation and driving, adjusting the processing priority of the two activities depending on task demands," the researchers behind the new study write in the journal Human Factors. That split in attention is worse than conversing with someone who is in the car, past research has found. Texting is a whole other matter. It "requires drivers to switch their attention from one task to the other," the researchers said in a statement today. "When such attention-switching occurs as drivers compose, read, or receive a text, their overall reaction times are substantially slower than when they're engaged in a phone conversation."

So here's the question: What if anything should we do about this? We hosted a debate on texting and driving a couple of months ago. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, wrote explaining a bill she is sponsoring which would ban texting while driving. It all seems fairly common-sensical, until you read the counter-point, by Reason magazine's Radley Balko, who makes a strong argument that trying to ban texting while driving is a bad idea:

I'm not going to defend the act of clumsily thumbing out an E-mail while guiding a 2-ton, gasoline-loaded missile down the highway at 70 miles per hour. That's foolish. Nor will I argue there's some right to drive while iPhone-ing tucked into a constitutional penumbra. I will argue that we need to get over the idea that we can solve every bad habit with a new law. We can't, and this issue illustrates why.

His whole piece is worth a read. Then weigh in below--should we ban texting and driving?