Researchers from the University of Houston and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) say drivers are more distracted when they text than when they are being absent minded or are upset while behind the wheel.
The researchers, who based their findings on a study of 59 volunteers/drivers, say a mechanism in the brain automatically corrects for jitter in a driver's arms and hands while steering -- as long as the driver is watching the road. Reading or sending texts while driving takes the driver's eyes off the road, and that's where things becomes unsafe.
"The driver's mind can wander and his or her feelings may boil, but a sixth sense keeps a person safe at least in terms of veering off course," says the University of Houston's Ioannis Pavlidis, who partnered with TTI's Robert Wunderlich on the research. "What makes texting so dangerous is that it wreaks havoc into this sixth sense. Self-driving cars may bypass this and other problems, but the moral of the story is that humans have their own auto systems that work wonders, until they break."
The researchers are looking into developing a "stressalyzer" that could monitor driving behavior (serving as a sort of Black Box) and give drivers timely feedback.
Their work is funded, in part, by the Toyota Class Action Settlement Safety Research and Education Program.
For those not heeding the results of studies like this, perhaps the approach of a fake funeral home running a billboard ad near Toronto will get the message across. The billboard shown above comes from the ad agencies John St., and Cieslok Media.