Texting while driving – Just as dangerous for truckers

Photo Credit: Islndr

Over the last few months we’ve seen a lot of campaigns to build awareness about the dangers of texting while driving. The DOT included it as part of their push to try and make drivers, particularly teenage drivers, realize that even a moment’s distraction can lead to tragedy.

One campaign that has gained a lot of publicity for the very real and very sad stories it tells is AT&Ts ‘Don’t text while driving’ documentary. The episode shown below covers several poignant accounts of lives lost tragically and for something as seemingly harmless as a 3-letter text message. Teenagers left dead or paralyzed for life for something that in hindsight was almost pointless. Is it worth dying for a ‘LOL’ or a ‘Where u at’? Many road users have paid the ultimate price for a txt message, whether they were the ones who sent it, or they were killed by a driver distracted by a text.

It’s something that all of us, not just young people, should be aware of and take into account. But why exactly is it so dangerous, and are there safe alternatives?

Texting – Why so dangerous?

Like any distraction, texting takes your focus away from what’s in front of you. Your brain (cognitive abilities) is impaired to react as quickly when the situation in front of you changes rapidly, such as when a car suddenly brakes, the lights change or a kid runs out on to the road.

Worse than other distractions

Someone might argue that texting is no different from any other distraction – eating, applying makeup or having a phone conversation. But scientific research actually shows that texting is actually more dangerous because of how the brain handles the task.

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. Researchers Frank Drews and colleagues found evidence that attention patterns differ when people text. Instead of other distractions such as talking on the phone where the brain will divide attention, compared with texting where the brain actually switches attention. It’s this attention switching that makes it so dangerous.

In their study, reaction times increased on average by 30%, compared with 9% from those tested while talking on their phone.

Not just a young person’s problem

In a separate study, researchers dug deeper and found that reading text messages actually resulted in worse reaction times than sending them. Something that was interesting about this particular study was the comparison between young and old, and the results were surprising.

While many of the text campaigns have been targeted at young people, the study found that older people’s reaction times were significantly worse, particularly when sending a text. It shows that texting while driving is not just a young person’s problem.

What are the alternatives?

There are many reasons why seem feel the need to continue texting while driving despite the warnings. Perhaps they feel it won’t happen to them, that they’re a safe driver, they can handle it or they text safely. But it’s just not worth the risk and the time to stop doing it is not after you’ve had an accident that proves the point – save yourself and other people the grief by stopping now.

But we might still feel a need to communicate while driving, particularly for truckers who are on the road for hours on end. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Got a passenger? – If you’ve got someone riding with you, hand them the phone and get them to send the text for you.
  • Get a hands-free kit – Call instead and use a blue-tooth hands-free kit so you can keep your focus on what’s happening out front.
  • Pull over – It’s an obvious one but why not save your messaging for when you pull over to take a comfort break? Makes sense really.
  • Telematics messaging – Getting messages from head office or dispatch that are proving to be a distraction? Switch them on to a telematics system that can incorporate smart 2-way messaging to simplify communication. Telogis Mobile supports canned messages and forms that make replying a snap. For example, if dispatch want to ask all drivers who is running spare trailer space they can setup a form that is broadcast to all drivers via their PND. Rather than drivers having to text a complicated reply, they simply choose from a multi-choice how much space they have spare and if they can do the pickup.

Sometimes you don’t even need an alternative because there are some messages that just don’t need to be sent in the first place. So next time you’re tempted to reach for the phone and fire off a quick text message, think twice. It could be the best decision you ever make.

  • Personal calls can distract truckers as much as any driver. Technology should be part of the solution here as well.

    I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (like truck drivers), I built a texting asset called OTTER that is a simple and intuitive GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. While driving, OTTER silences those distracting call ringtones and chimes unless a bluetooth is enabled. The texting auto reply allows anyone to schedule a ‘texting blackout period’ in any situation like a meeting or a lecture without feeling disconnected. This software is a social messaging tool for the end user that also empowers this same individual to be a sustainably safer driver.

    Erik Wood, Founder
    OTTER apps