‘Need to reach out and connect’ prompts rise in texting and driving

Researchers study what happens in the seconds before a crash

Joan Jones | November 14, 2014 10:29 pm

WASHINGTON – It can happen in a blink – taking your eyes off the road so you can glance at a text message on your smartphone.

A recent State Farm survey finds Americans are still surfing and driving. In fact, the percentage of drivers who went online while driving has nearly doubled to 24 percent from 13 percent in 2009. Among drivers who are 18 to 49, the percentage going online while driving rose from 29 percent to 49 percent.

The numbers don’t come as a surprise to Greg Fitch, a senior research associate with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, who studies driver behavior.

“We all feel this need to reach out and connect whether it’s with text messages or to seek for information online,” said Fitch.

Accidents or near accidents can occur in 4.6 seconds, the average amount of time that you’ll take your eyes off the road when texting behind the wheel, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

While more people report texting while driving, the percentage of drivers between 18 and 29 doing so dropped off slightly, from 71 percent to 69 percent, the State Farm survey found.

But It’s not just a problem with young people.

With more people 40 and over using smartphones, more of those drivers admit texting while driving. Half of drivers between 30 and 39 do so. Thirty one percent between 40 and 49 text and drive and 19 percent between 50 and 64 also do so, according to USA TODAY.

“No matter how much you regulate it and make it illegal, people have this strong desire to connect. They’re going to do it anyway,” Fitch said.

The future may be cars that let drivers keep their eyes on the road.

“Let’s engineer out all the things that people do behind the wheel that take their eyes off the road,” Fitch said,

He expects voice texting and hands-free calling will be more widely available in the near future.

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