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The Science Behind the Dangers of Driving and Texting

The Science Behind the Dangers of Driving and Texting Credit: Texting while driving image via Shutterstock

You know driving and texting is a bad idea, but new research explains why.

A new study from Ohio State University found that trying to do two visual tasks at once, such as driving and texting, hurt performance in both tasks significantly more than combining a visual and an audio task, like driving and talking on the phone.

Eye-tracking technology used in the study showed that people's gaze moved around much more when they had two visual tasks compared to a visual and an audio task, and spent much less time fixated on any one task.

"They're both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eyetracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone, which is not a surprise," said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University. "But what is surprising is that our results also suggest that people may perceive that texting is not more dangerous - they may think they can do a good job at two visual tasks at one time."

The research found that people are overconfident in how well they can multitask, especially when they combine two visual tasks.

"They may perceive visual tasks as relatively effortless, which may explain the tendency to combine tasks like driving and texting." Wang said.

The research shows a need to teach media and multitasking literacy to young people before they start driving.

"Our results suggest many people may believe they can effectively text and drive at the same time, and we need to make sure young people know that is not true," Wang said.

[Talking and Driving Costs Businesses Big]

The study was implications for employees in the office as well. For those with chat systems to work with fellow employees, the research found they are more productive when using a voice chat, rather than an instant messaging system.

"When people are using IM, their visual attention is split much more than when they use voice chat," Wang said.

In addition, the findings show technology companies should be aware of how people respond to multitasking when designing products. For example, GPS voice guidance should be used over image guidance because people are more effective when they combine visual with audio tasks compared to two visual tasks.

"We need to design media environments that emphasize processing efficiency and activity safety," Wang said. "We can take advantage of the fact that we do better when we can use visual and audio components rather than two visual components."

The study, which appears in a recent issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was co-authored by Prabu David of Washington State University, Jatin Srivastava of Ohio University and Stacie Powers, Christine Brady, Jonathan D'Angelo and Jennifer Moreland, all of Ohio State.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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