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Scientist Discovers How to Detect Texting and Driving

Texting and driving is illegal in California and many other states, but texting while driving bans are difficult to enforce. One physicist may have made the enforcement of texting bans easier, however. The scientist decided to tackle the issue of texting while driving after hearing transportation secretary Ray LaHood speak about texting as a “deadly epidemic” on our country’s roads. The physicist had teenage daughters at the time and he wondered if there was a scientific way to address the problem of texting-while-driving car accidents which impact so many teens the age of his children.

The physicist speculated that there might be a detectable pattern for texting drivers. After some research, the physicist and his coworkers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that there was, in fact, a predictable pattern that could identify texting drivers and maybe one day stop them.

“Imagine a parent walking across a room, and you could see their footprints,” physicist said. “Fast or slow, those prints would be fairly regular. But now imagine they’re helping a toddler learn to walk. The steps are much more erratic. That’s a very similar pattern to what you see a person’s finger do when they try to text and drive.”

The scientist and his coworkers developed a mathematical formula that can identify texting drivers with a 99 percent accuracy rate. The formula could be used by software developers to make a cellphone application that would lock a phone and prevent a person from texting.

Government statistics indicate at least 5,400 people were killed and 448,000 people were injured in texting-related crashes in 2009. Some believe that these numbers are vastly underreported however because drivers are reluctant to admit that they caused a crash by texting.

Source: The Columbian, “Physicist finds way to detect texting behind the wheel,” Sue Vorenberg, March 21, 2012