"Uh now's not a good time." Even though Kirsten Buchwald is a young driver, she knows her phone is distracting. "I tend to get a little scared, sometimes, on the road and so I don't feel like I should," says Kirsten.
That's a lesson researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hope other teens key in on. "I would say distracted driving is doing anything other than the primary task at hand, which is driving safely, so distraction by drinking, eating in the car, putting on makeup," says researcher Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D.
And in this case, using a cell phone. Talking takes your mind off the road, but texting saps even more focus. "Some scientists have called it a 'perfect storm' because it involves all three domains. So it requires you to take your eyes off of the road, your hands off of the wheel, and your mind off of the road at once," says Dr. Stavrinos.
This study focuses on how teen drivers handle common driving tasks when they chat or text. "We have a pedestrian, for example, dart out into the street. We have the light change from green to yellow as they're approaching an intersection to see if they're going to react in time to stop," says Dr. Stavrinos.
In early results, the teens are over-confident in their multi-tasking abilities. Dr. Stavrinos says they are experienced texters but there's still a limit to human performance, and teenagers struggle to understand the limitations.
And that's where parents come in. "That's one of the things we tried to, to stress to Kirsten is you're driving, that's what you need to concentrate on," says Kirsten's father, Gerald.
Medical and law enforcement professionals say distracted driving can be just as deadly as drunk driving. The teenagers suggest choosing a designated texter, someone to handle the texting so the driver stays focused.