Effective in January 2021, cell phone use while driving will be illegal for Virginia drivers on roadways unless using a hands-free device. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) expert Charlie Klauer says this is an important step toward improving safety on roadways to save lives.

According to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), driver distraction is a major contributing factor to crashes and is the leading cause of death for the U.S. population under 35 years of age.

“The new Virginia hands-free bill is written so that use of cell phones will be illegal for drivers in Virginia, and we believe this bill will result in safer roadways, less injuries, and fewer fatalities,” says Klauer. “Drivers who use hands-free electronic devices, as opposed to handheld, are less likely to get into a crash.”

Many newer cars feature integrated hands-free interfaces for phone calls, navigational use, and other tasks, allowing drivers to keep both hands on the wheel and stay focused on driving. “With hands-free technology, drivers can perform a variety of tasks while still keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road,” says Klauer.

Klauer says that new drivers in particular are more prone to dangerous distractions versus experienced motorists. This includes handling of a cell phone to dial or text, reaching away from the steering wheel, looking at something alongside the road, and eating. Her research finds that all these acts were statistically to increase crash risk for the new drivers.

“Any secondary task that takes the novice driver’s eyes off the road increases risk of crash involvement. A distracted driver is unable to recognize and  appropriately respond to road hazards, such as the abrupt slowing of a lead vehicle or the sudden entrance of a vehicle, pedestrian, or object onto the forward roadway,” says Klauer.

About Klauer

Charlie Klauer is a research scientist and the group leader for the Teen Risk and Injury Prevention Group at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). She is also an associate professor in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at Virginia Tech. At VTTI, she has served as the Principal Investigator for a series of naturalistic driving studies that include three teen naturalistic driving studies and the Canada Naturalistic Driving Study. Her primary research involves studying the effects of distraction and fatigue on driving, especially on novice drivers. More here.

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