UAB researchers study "texting while driving" with simulator - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

UAB researchers study "texting while driving" with simulator

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15-year-old Patricia Flach's parents have warned her.

"When I turn 16, they are taking texting off my cell phone."

"Their generation loves to text," says her mom, Mary, "and you know it's a huge temptation."

Dr. Despina Stavrinos researches that temptation everyday with a driving simulator.

"We're interested in seeing how those teens who are novice drivers, 16 to18 years of age, how they would handle those certain situations."

Stavrinos let reporter Ebony Hall test drive the simulator. It looks like an old arcade game with big steering wheel, somewhat primitive graphics (think Pole Position meets The Sims), but the experience can be surprisingly realistic.

"Oh! That scared me," Ebony says, slamming on the brakes after a car pulled out in front of her causing a crash.

There two cameras on the simulator that focus on the driver's eyes. Ebony took her eyes off the road for almost seven-seconds to send a text message. She looks up and then looks right back down at her phone. Meanwhile, her "car" is swerving all over the road. She eventually crashes.

Stavrinos says scientists call "texting while driving" the perfect storm.

"Because it involves not only taking your eyes off of the road, your hands off of the wheel, but also your mind off of the road, and I think that's really that cognitive distraction that's really the key."

It's a distraction the Flachs hope to avoid.

"We hope that taking it off her phone is a good thing," Mary says.

Stavrinos says they are still analyzing the data. So far, they have tested 43 teen drivers. Many of them have been texting longer than they have been driving. Stavrinos says the teens admit to sending 200 to 500 texts a day. You have to wonder how much of that is done behind the wheel.