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Safety & Security Teen Driving & Cell Phone Use Don't Mix
Nov 30, 2005 – Ford Motor Company Staff Writer

According to Ford Motor Company research, teen drivers are four times more distracted than adult drivers by cell phone use. Research such as this led the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to add wireless communications devices to its Most Wanted list of safety improvements for young drivers.

Eleven states - Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Texas - and the District of Columbia have banned teen cell phone use while driving. Many other states are considering similar legislation.

These actions were inspired by statistics that support what many drivers already know: Cell phones and driving don't mix. In fact, 300,000 crashes from 1998 through 2002 were attributed to cell phone use, according to a driver survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

According to Ford Motor Company, the distraction caused by cell phone use is even greater in teens than it is in adults. To study driver reactions, Ford developed the VIRtual Test Track EXperiment (VIRTTEX), an exclusive simulator which monitors and analyzes a variety of driving behaviors.

In a recent study, Ford put teens and adults in the VIRTTEX simulator to measure the effect of age on cell phone distraction. Without any distractions, both the teens and the adults had a three percent miss rate in identifying potentially dangerous events, such as a car quickly changing lanes in front of them.

However, when the same test was run again with the addition of participants using a cell phone, the adult miss rate rose to 13 percent, while teen distraction levels rose to more than 50 percent.

During the experiment, each driver wore a hands-free headset and was asked to do a variety of tests as they "drove" down an interstate highway. The tasks included changing the radio station, adjusting the climate in the car, answering incoming phone calls, making phone calls and retrieving voice mail.

Given the top automotive award at the 2005 World Traffic Safety Symposium, VIRTTEX helps Ford researchers study driver workload and distraction issues.

VIRTTEX uses advanced computers to create a virtual driving environment. Drivers sit behind the wheel of a specially instrumented car bolted inside the simulator, and drive according to the test instructions. They are surrounded by a video screen, which simulates a driving environment. Researchers then monitor and measure the driver's ability to cope with a variety of driving situations.

"The VIRTTEX simulator enables Ford to compile data about driver-vehicle interaction so that we can apply what we learn to make better, safer vehicles," said Jeff Greenberg, manager of the VIRTTEX. "By understanding how different drivers react to different situations, Ford can help prepare drivers for the unexpected."

Other VIRTTEX driving experiments include teen driving patterns, behavioral response to drowsy driving, behavioral response differences by age and gender, and warning preferences of drivers, including

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