The study, "Text Messaging During Simulated Driving," had 40 participants use a virtual driving simulator to test their reactions while sending text messages and while talking on the phone. The researchers said drivers who texted often followed other motorists too closely, were less likely to hit the brakes in time to avoid a crash, and had delayed reaction times.
Texters showed a "substantial" increase in the risk of a crash because texting "requires drivers to switch their attention from one task to the other." Those just talking on a mobile phone "apparently attempt to divide attention between a phone conversation and driving, adjusting the processing priority of the two activities depending on task demands," the researchers said.
The study said there is "little doubt" that conversing while driving can affect performance, but the concentration levels needed for reading, responding, and sending texts can make this practice more dangerous.
"Overall, the present findings suggest that text messaging while driving is more risky than... many other distracting activities drivers currently engage in," the researchers said.
Text messages are booming, as the CTIA said there were more than 1 trillion texts sent last year and that number is expected to increase. The study comes as this issue is gaining a lot of attention from federal legislatures, safety organizations, and the major mobile operators. President Barack Obama has already banned federal workers from sending texts while operating a government vehicle, and lawmakers are mulling legislation that would make states ban this practice or face reduction in federal highway funds.