Driving Danger: Receiving Texts and Phone Calls Just as Distracting as Answering Them

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Everyone should know by now that it’s dangerous to text, tweet, message, or do anything on a cellphone while driving.

About half (50%) of mobile phone owners use their phone as their primary internet source, but responding to messages while driving — even if it is just to check a message really quickly — is profoundly dangerous. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, texting while driving makes a person 23 times more likely to crash. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that texting while driving is the equivalent of driving blind for five seconds.

And according to new research, it’s dangerous to even have an un-silenced cell phone with you when you drive.

Florida State University researchers asked over 212 students to complete a sustained attentional performance test. Subjects were shown a series of single digits on a screen at a rate of one number per second. Students had to tap the keyboard each time the number changed, unless the new digit was three.

Each participant took the test twice. The first time, they weren’t interrupted. The second time, research assistants called or texted some of the students’ phones.

The study found that participants’ performance suffered each time they received an audible notification. In fact, the distraction of a simple notification — be it a ping or a buzz — was comparable to the effects seen when drivers actually answer calls or answer texts.

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you answer your phone, or respond to a message when driving. Simply receiving the notification is distracting enough to cause a serious problem.

 Simply receiving the notification is distracting enough to cause a serious problem.
Simply receiving the notification is distracting enough to cause a serious problem.

“Our results suggest that mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device,” said the study authors. “As mobile phones become integrated into more and more tasks, it may become increasingly difficult for people to set their phones aside and concentrate fully on the task at hand, whatever it may be.”

So the next time you drive, you may want to just put your phone on silent. It could save your life.

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