Drivers Are Doing Something Besides Driving Ten Percent of the Time

Simply talking on a cellphone, however, did not increase the risk of an accident or near accident for drivers - so long as their eyes stayed on the road

Driving and texting
Jason Weaver

The list of potential distractions in a car is surprisingly lengthy: eating, doing makeup, changing the radio, adjusting the ratio of sugar and cream in your coffee, reading a billboard, texting, consulting a map or looking at your kid. Distractions like these, it turns out, take a a full ten percent of a driver's time, according to new research—that's time spent not watching the road, but engaging in some other activity.

Anyone who takes his or her eyes off the road risks rear-ending another car, colliding with a biker or drifting into the other lane. But this risk is especially pronounced for new drivers, the researchers found.

The study, which took place in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., analyzed the behaviors of 150 drivers who agreed to have video cameras installed in their cars. The drivers ranged in age from 18 to 72, and the researchers collected footage of their behavior for more than one year. About a quarter of the study subjects were new drivers, some of whom had only had their license for about a month when the study began. Reuters reports on what the researchers found:

In all, there were 685 crashes and near-crashes for which the driver shared the blame. The findings clearly showed that maturity mattered.

For experienced drivers, reaching for an object, or eating or drinking a nonalcoholic beverage while driving did not increase the risk of a crash - at least not enough to be statistically significant.

Yet dialing a cell phone was clearly a problem for the veterans. Their odds of a crash or near-crash jumped 2.5-fold as they tried to make a call.

But for novices who had been driving for 19 months or less, a lot of distracting activities interfered with their abilities.

Compared to experienced drivers, young drivers were eight times more likely to get in trouble when dialing a phone; seven times more likely when reaching for something; four times more likely when texting; and three times more likely when eating, the researchers report.

Simply talking on a cellphone, however, did not increase the risk of an accident or near-accident for any of the drivers—so long as their eyes were still on the road, the team found.

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