New Study: Texting While Driving More Dangerous Than Previously Thought

Multitasking is all but a way of life in the modern world. Most of us realize that doing two or more things at once tends to detract from quality; but we may not always recognize that it can also be dangerous.

In a new study that appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers delved into the different kinds of distraction brought about by multitasking. Their findings seem to indicate that texting while driving is a perfect storm of visual distraction that puts motorists at far more risk of causing an accident than simply talking on the phone.

Visual Multitaskers Displayed Poor Performance, Overconfidence

The level to which each sense is utilized in a given task was an important factor in the recent research. Researchers discovered that subjects asked to do two visual tasks at a time performed far worse that those who combined a visual task and an audio task - and even though their actual performance was worse, those taking on two visual tasks self-assessed their performance higher.

"Many people have this overconfidence in how well they can multitask, and our study shows that this particularly is the case when they combine two visual tasks," said Zheng Wang in an interview with Psych Central News. Wang was lead author of the study.

Participants in the study were asked to perform two visual tasks by completing a pattern-matching puzzle on a computer screen while simultaneously giving walking directions to another person using instant messaging software. Then, the outcomes were compared to those for participants who combined an audio and a visual task by trying to complete the same pattern-matching puzzle while giving voice instructions using audio chat.

The authors say that the multitasking scenarios used in the study can be likened to those drivers may face on the road. People who text while they drive are essentially conducting two visual tasks. On the other hand, people who talk on a cell phone while driving are dividing their attention between a visual and an auditory task.

For both types of tasks, multitasking seriously hurt performance. However, the results were far worse for those engaged in two visual tasks; what's more, the visual multitaskers expressed a higher, albeit false, level of confidence.

Results on the Road

The finding that performance is impaired even as confidence soars for visual multitaskers has troubling implications for roadway safety. Texting and driving is a recipe for serious car accidents, particularly among younger, inexperienced drivers.

Cell phone users in general and particularly young drivers need to be educated about the full dangers of texting behind the wheel. In addition, while talking and operating a motor vehicle can still be dangerous, engineering solutions that replace visual tasks behind the wheel with auditory tasks (For example, GPS guidance that uses voice commands rather than imaged guidance or "talk to text" features on cell phones) also have potential to at least reduce risks.

Hurt in a Car Accident? Call a New Jersey Injury Attorney

If you have been injured by a driver who was using a cell phone, you may be entitled to compensation. But, you should be aware that legal claims for car accident injuries must be made within a certain timeframe. In addition, because witness memories fade and evidence may deteriorate, investigation of car crashes is usually easier the closer it is to the time of the actual accident. Bearing this in mind, it is important to get in touch with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident in order to secure the full monetary damages you are entitled to.