Akron 7th grader conducts texting research using driving simulator, finds surprising results

Akron student, 13, compares voice and manual texts

AKRON, Ohio - Jackson Tankersley won't get his driver's license for three more years, but he already knows the first thing he'll do when he gets behind the wheel.

"Put the phone away," Tankersley said.

The seventh grader at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Akron can look to his own research to understand how dangerous texting and driving can be.

Tankersley, 13, decided his science project would focus on the hypotheses that voice-activated texting while driving could be just as dangerous as manual texting.

"On my way to and from school, I would just see people on their phones while driving. I wanted to know how dangerous is that really," Tankersley explained.

With assistance from Christopher Was, Director of the Educational Psychology Lab at Kent State University, Tankersley utilized a driving simulator to conduct his project, which he named TXT U L8R.

Twenty one adults, between the ages of 18-33, sat behind the simulator and were given commands to text either by voice or with their fingers while they navigated through a driving course.

The teen found his subjects were almost equally distracted regardless of how the texts were sent.

Drivers looked away from the road 43 percent of the time while sending a text manually, versus 40 percent through voice activation.

"I think people should know that voice commands and texting and driving is dangerous," Tankersley said.

The research surprised Tankersley's learning science coach, Christine Justiss, at the STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) middle school.

"I didn't think that if you had both hands on the wheel, eyes forward and were talking that there would still be a problem, but obviously, according to his findings, there definitely is," Justiss said.

Tankersley said drivers are still distracted through voice-activation because they look down to read their message and check for errors before sending the text.

He was given a superior rating for the research project and plans to present his findings at other Ohio science fairs.

Tankersley has watched several news stories that detail tragic car accidents due to distracted drivers and said texting and driving is "such a hot topic" since many cities, including Akron, are considering tougher texting laws.

Ohio will begin enforcing a texting law in March. It makes texting while driving a secondary offense for adults, meaning they can only be pulled over if they're doing something else wrong, such as speeding or weaving.

However, the law makes it a primary offense for those under the age of 18, which gives police the right to stop a driver just for texting.

Tankersley thinks the dangers of texting and driving should be taught to kids at a young age at Safety City events.

"I think it's really important for to kids to know this and for kids to do research," he said.

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