Eyes on the Road: Important Lessons from a Simulator

by Nicole Agee, Anchor/Reporter

IOWA CITY - Do you know what your teens are doing in the driver's seat? Chances are, at one time or another, they're texting. According to AAA, nearly half of all 16 and 17-year-olds admit they regularly keep one hand on the wheel and the other on their cell phone. And it can have a dangerous effect on the way they drive.

Some teens told us they send hundreds each day. But no matter how many you send or how good you think you are at texting, you'll be surprised to see how it impacts your ability to drive safely. In takes one glance to cause a crash.

"Texting is really one of the most attention demanding tasks that a driver can do, because it takes their eyes off the road for a substantial amount of time," said Dan McGehee PhD, Director, Vehicle Safety Research.

The University of Iowa uses the National Advanced Driving Simulator for its research. The look and feel are as close as you can get to the real thing.

We put two teens into the simulator with their cell phones and asked them to text while driving a simulated course. (Watch the video at left to watch them in the simulator.)

"I still kind of feel a bit shocked just cause that car pulled out and everything and then there was another car coming at me," said Peter Dolan, 18.

Of the few hundred texts he says he sends a day, he says he doesn't text in the driver's seat.

"I try to avoid those situations just by not doing it in the first place," said Dolan.

"I can't do this because I'm going to get into an accident. In the first five minutes I almost hit a little white car," said Zoey Salisbury, 17.

Peter and Zoey drove with a visual manual distraction, meaning they looked away from the road while using a cell phone.

Dr. McGehee says that's a dangerous combination: a visual distraction like glancing at your watch, and a manual distraction like changing the radio station.

"Studies have shown you can look away from the road for about one and three-quarters seconds before you start swerving. Now it takes a few seconds, three or four seconds, to type a couple of letters in a text message, which is more than enough time to cause a crash," said McGehee.

"What's frustrating for us to see in our research is that you'll have a carload of your own kids and you might be texting or talking on the phone, really putting your family at risk," said McGehee.

Teens are developing texting habits at a very young age. Nelisen research shows kids younger than 12 are sending more than 1,100 text messages each month.

Wednesday night, we'll talk with a local driver's ed instructor who's trying to break that habit before teens hit the road.

Gauge Your Own Distraction:
New studies show that drivers overestimate their ability to multitask behind the wheel. This game measures how your reaction time is affected by external distractions. Regardless of your results, experts say, you should not attempt to text when driving. Play the Game: NYTimes.com

Video Extras
Watch as TV9's Nicole Agee tries the simulator:


Watch Zoey Salisbury in the simulator:


Watch Peter Dolan in the simulator:
facebook twitter email alerts you tube hooplanow