Experiment drives home dangers of texting behind the wheel


Warnings about the dangers of texting while driving are ubiquitous. Students who take Biology 270, human physiology, have more than anecdotes to reinforce the message. They have real data showing how much texting slows their reaction times.

In a recent laboratory exercise, students taking the class conducted five different experiments that tested their reaction times under various conditions, one of which was texting. The tests included a standard reflex test, where a mallet tap on the patellar tendon caused their leg to kick out.

In addition to testing their reflexes, students tested reactions by having test subjects move their leg when they heard the mallet tap on a notebook. For these exercises, the test subject looked away from the mallet tap. While texting, a test subject's reaction time was significantly slower than while they were reading, counting or performing other tasks.

The data was recorded by a computer that was attached to each test subject's leg. The program recorded both the time it took for the leg to move and the amount of distance the leg moved.

"We want to mimic what happens, how your body responds if you're texting," said Dr. Beaux Berkeley, a visiting assistant professor who developed the lab exercise in collaboration with fellow biology professor Dr. Norm Garrison. "The whole idea is to give the students the understanding that texting while driving might not be such a great idea."

The experiment is part of a larger conversation about appropriate use of technology on the JMU campus, Berkeley said. With students using technology inside of the classroom, Berkeley wants to see how students' bodies are adapting to these new tools, and for students to see how technology affects their bodies.

  • Out of 54 students tested, the results show that reaction times while texting were nearly triple the time of a student's standard reflex.
  • While everyone's reflex and reaction times vary, every student who has done the exercise has had a slower reaction while texting.

By Josh Kelly ('15), JMU Public Affairs

Published Oct. 21, 2014

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Published: Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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