Breaking a Deadly Habit: Texting and Driving

Reporter: Lauren Compton l Videographers: Brian Whitesell & Jemon Haskins

Lynchburg, VA- A lot of people are guilty of texting or being distracted behind the wheel despite studies which show it can be a deadly habit. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving played a factor in more than 3,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2010.

ABC13 News Reporter Lauren Compton teamed up with some driving instructors to do a distracted driving course. She discovered it doesn't take long to put yourself at risk of an accident.

At Longwood University, driver's education students use a driving obstacle course to practice what they will one day be teaching others. The university let Compton and driving instructor Ken Frederick use the course to a distracted driving test.

"The course you are going to be driving on has a serpentine that means you are going to be driving left and right around some cones," said Frederick.

Academy of Driving instructor Frederick sat in the passenger's seat and Compton sat in the driver's seat. Frederick instructed Compton to drive through the course without knocking over cones and identify the colored cones on the course. Frederick says 90% of what a person does in the car is related to what they see. That is why he wanted Compton to stay focused on the cones.

Compton was able to complete the course with flying colors with no distractions behind the wheel. But things change when Frederick asked her to text and drive.

During the obstacle course, Compton tried to type and send text messages while driving. The feat proved to be very difficult. Compton swerved off the course, and her turns were not as smooth as before. Just taking her eyes off the wheel for a few seconds changed her ability to drive.

Researchers say a lot can happen in those few seconds. For example, if you are driving 55 mph and you take your eyes off the road for four to six seconds, that is enough time to travel an entire football field.

It's something the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute knows well. Researchers at VTTI found drivers 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash if you are texting and driving. Young people are at a high risk as well.

"We have found that young or younger drivers are five times more likely to be involved in inattention related crashes or near crashes than any other age group," said Dr. Charlie Klauer, a research scientist at VTTI.

That is why VTTI supports a wireless devices ban for young drivers. But surprisingly they do not support a wireless device ban for adult drivers.

"Legislating against cellphone use is not going to take the problem away. It may even make it worse because drivers will then drop their cellphones even further down, looking further away from the forward roadway while they are operating them," said Dr. Klauer.

Texting and driving proved to be a difficult juggling act for Compton.

"How many did I knock over?" she asked.

"Just one, but I wonder how old that child was," said Frederick.

Frederick's statement about the cone being a child brought Compton back to reality. The course wasn't just an obstacle course but another reminder to keep your eyes only on the road when you're driving.

"It's a lot to keep the car going, thinking about the cones, trying to send the right words in the text. It was so much to think about at one time," said Compton.