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Drivers Multitask 10 Percent of the Time

Update Date: Jan 02, 2014 10:11 AM EST

Driving is one of the most dangerous modes of transportation. Even though driving might be easy for experienced drivers, there are many variables that increase one's risk of getting into an accident. The majority of these variables, such as dozing or texting, are preventable. In a new study, researchers found drivers spend around 10 percent of their time performing other tasks while driving.

"Anything that takes a driver's eyes off the road can be dangerous," said study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton, Ed.D., M.P.H., of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) where the study was conducted. "But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven't developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel."

For this study, the researchers examined drivers from Washington, D.C. and southwestern Virginia. They placed cameras in the cars of 150 drivers with a quarter of them being new drivers who only had their license for as long as three weeks. The other drivers had an average of 20 years of driving and their ages ranged from 18 to 72. The camera tracked movement for 12 to 18 months. Data was collected on acceleration, sudden braking, swerving or drifting.

They found that risks of accidents were different between experienced and novice drivers. For experienced drivers, they were two times more likely to crash if they had difficulty dialing their cell phones as opposed to not touching their phones at all. Experienced drivers, however, did not have an increased risk of a crash if they performed other non-driving related tasks.

For novice drivers, on the other hand, they were eight times more likely to get into an accident if they were dialing their cell phones. New drivers were around seven to eight times more likely to be reaching for objects, such as cell phones, while driving. Furthermore, new drivers were four times more likely to text and drive and three times more likely to eat and drive. The team found that novice drivers did not have an increased risk of accident if they were talking on their phones. However, the act of getting their phones or dialing numbers did increase the risk.

The researchers believe that their findings reiterate the important of restricting the use of electronics while driving, especially for beginner drivers. The researchers also stated the importance of educating new drivers about the risks involved with performing other activities while on the road.

"Our data support the current trend in implementing restrictions on texting and cell phone use in vehicles," said Dr. Simons-Morton according to the press release. "As new forms of technology increasingly are available in cars, it's important that drivers don't feel compelled to answer every incoming call or text. For young drivers' safety, parents can model this habit when they are at the wheel, and also let their children know that they should wait until the vehicle is stopped before taking a call-even when it's from mom or dad."

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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