BETHESDA, Md., Jan. 1 (UPI) -- For 10 percent of the time U.S. drivers are behind the wheel their eyes are off the road due to eating, reaching for the phone or texting, researchers say.
Study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said the risks of distracted driving were greatest for newly licensed teen drivers, who were substantially more likely than adults to be involved in a crash or near miss while texting or engaging in tasks secondary to driving.
Simons-Morton collaborated with first author Sheila G. Klauer, Feng Guo, Suzie E. Lee and Tom A. Dingus; all of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, and Marie Claude Ouimet now at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada.
The researchers found experienced adults were more than twice as likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing a cell phone as when they did not dial and drive, but did not have an increased risk while engaging in other tasks secondary to driving.
However, the study found distracted driving substantially increased the risks for new drivers. Compared to when they were not involved in secondary tasks, novice teen drivers were:
-- Eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing.
-- Seven to eight times more likely when reaching for a phone or other object.
-- Almost four times more likely when texting, and three times more likely when eating.
Talking on a cell phone did not increase risk among the adult or teenage drivers. However, because talking on a cell phone is preceded by reaching for the phone and answering or dialing -- which increase risk greatly -- the study authors concluded that their results provide support for licensing programs that restrict electronic device use, particularly among novice drivers. They also stressed the need for education about the danger of distracted driving.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.