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eyes on the road

Young drivers are more likely to crash due to mobile phone distraction

The US study also produced a surprise result, simply talking on the phone did not prove dangerous.

YOUNG DRIVERS ARE more likely to be distracted by mobile phones while driving with a crash or near-miss among young drivers seven times more likely if they are using their phones.

For the new US study, researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute installed video cameras, global positioning systems and gadgets to measure speed and acceleration in the cars of 42 newly licenced drivers 16 or 17 years old.

They also did the same in the cars of 109 adults with an average of 20 years behind the wheel.

The risk of a crash or near-miss among young drivers increased more than sevenfold if they were dialing or reaching for a mobile phone and fourfold if they were sending or receiving a text message.

The risk also rose if they were reaching for something other than a phone, looking at a roadside object or eating.

Among older drivers, only dialing a number  increased the chances of a crash or near miss. However, that study began before texting became more common, so researchers don’t know if it is as dangerous for them as it is for teens.

The research also produced a surprise, simply talking on the phone did not prove dangerous, as it has in other studies. Although the study did not distinguish between handheld and hands-free devices a major weakness.

And even though talking doesn’t require drivers to take their eyes off the road, it’s hard to talk on a phone without first reaching for it or dialing a number things that raise the risk of a crash, researchers note.

The results were published in today’s a New England Journal of Medicine.

David Strayer, a University of Utah scientist who has done research on this topic, said the findings that merely talking on a phone while driving was not dangerous is “completely at odds with what we found.”

The study methods and tools may have underestimated risks because video cameras capture wandering eyes but can’t measure cognitive distraction, he said.

“You don’t swerve so much when you’re talking on a cellphone; you just might run through a red light,” and sensors would not necessarily pick up anything amiss unless a crash occurred, Strayer said.

As for texting, “we all agree that things like taking your eyes off the road are dangerous,” he said.

Read: Children are 12 times more distracting to a driver than a mobile phone >

Poll: Do you use your mobile phone while driving? >

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