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Texting While Driving and Your Senses

Updated on August 25, 2018
tsmog profile image

Tim Mitchell is an avid learner adventuring into many interests. He enjoys sharing those experiences and discovered knowledge.

See it Happen. What Really Happened? How are the Senses involved? (16 Second Video)

Introduction: What is an Event?

We all have heard someone say “Are you paying attention?” Sometimes we hear others say “You are not focused.” Are we focused while texting and driving? Which one? Let’s look very closely.

Events occur. Sensing, driving, and texting are a series of events. An event is something that happens and at times is of importance. Some definitions are as complex as:

“the fundamental entity of observed physical reality represented by a point designated by three coordinates of place and one of time in the space-time continuum postulated by the theory of relativity(Merriam –

Events are Sensed

The senses notice through stimulus. Those senses we know are sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Those senses occur through space and over a period of time. Our senses communicate with our brain. Our brain interprets what is sensed, becomes aware, and then comprehends. Then, a reaction or action occurs. This article will focus on sight, sound, and touch. Those three produce “coordinates of place and one of time in the space-time continuum”.

Sight is the result of light sensed by the eye. It is perceived or one becomes aware after it is sensed. The contrast of light presents brighter images and darker images. The eye senses light with cones and rods. Different sets of cones and rods sense different wave lengths of light – contrast, blue, red, and green. The light sensed is transmitted through the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the occipital lobe. From there it communicates with the cerebral cortex. It is then that sight of light is perceived or one becomes aware. Next, it is comprehended.

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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. | Source

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Hearing is the result of sound sensed by the ear. Again it is perceived or one becomes aware after it is sensed. Sound waves are caught by the outer ear. They follow along a canal to the middle ear and then converted into mechanical vibrations with tissues.

Next, those are transmitted to the inner ear where they become nerve impulses. They follow along the acoustic nerve to a relay station called the cochlear nucleus. From there they split with them going to both sides of the brain. Sound is inerpreted at the primary auditory cortex located at the cerebral cortex. However, for the perception of sound – tones, pitch, and rhythm other brain areas are incorporated.

Touch is the result of sensory receptors and modalities within the somatosensory system. Again, it is perceived or one becomes aware after it is sensed. The main receptors are thermoreceptors – temperature, mechanoreceptors – mechanical pressure or distortion, chemoreceptors – chemical signals, and photo receptors – sensitivity to light. We have already discussed sight. They cover the skin, skeletal muscles, bones and joints, internal organs, and the cardiovascular system. These signals are received by nerves traversing to the spinal cord. The spinal cord transmits these signals primarily to the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.

The Cerebral Cortex (Intro) A Matrix (1:16 Min)

The Speed of Our Senses

Whenever something is sensed an event has occurred. Almost simultaneously it is an event in process. Is it possible to plot or map those coordinates we have discussed offering understanding of experiencing an event? Let’s try.

Light moves and as we learned it is a wave. Most have heard “at the speed of light”. How fast is that? Light travels at 670,616,629 MPH. That means the time to travel around the earth would be 0.13 seconds. The average blink of an eye is about 3/10ths of a second. Or, the time it takes to blink once the earth would be circled almost 2-1/2 times by light.

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Sound also moves and is a wave. Many have heard of the sound barrier. The speed of sound at sea level is 761 MPH and decreases with altitude. Sound will circle the earth in 32.7 hours (1-1/3 Days). That is the same as blinking the eye 353,513 times. In that time light will have traveled around the earth 883,784 times.

Touch moves too. It is a nerve impulse and too is a wave through the somatosensory system. For the touch sensory nerve fibers the impulse is from 3 – 30 meters per second. Nominal nerve fibers at average travel at 50 – 60 m/s. For this paper we will use 55 m/s or 123 MPH for nerve impulse speed. A nerve impulse would take 202 hours to circle the earth (8.4 Days). That would be 2,424,000 blinks of the eye. Light would have circled the earth 6,060,000 times and sound 6.87 times.

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This file is in the public domain. In case this is not legally possible: The right to use this work is granted to anyone for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law. | Source

Is there more? Time to Recognize and Comprehend the Senses.

We can easily see we sense at different rates. First, we sense with those three. Next, there is the time to process a thought. That is followed by the time to comprehend a thought. Those offer three coordinates of place and one of time in the space-time continuum”, thus an event occurred.

The speed of thought has been investigated by several scientist at learning institutions. A noted team at John’s Hopkins led by neurologist John Hart determined the time for a thought to occur. They measured recognition of an image to be 200 - 300 milliseconds. They measured sight from the eye to visual cortex of occipital lobe with a neural net of sensors placed upon an open brain.

Next, is the time to comprehend the image was determined to be 250 – 450 milliseconds. The total time is 450 – 750 milliseconds. Familiar objects are closest to 450 milliseconds. Semantic meaning has been assigned to the anterior temporal regions of the temporal lobe.

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Another interesting point for consideration is the rate at which information is transmitted by the retina via the cones and rods. Research by Dr. Kristin Koch of the University of Pennsylvania shares this occurs at 10 million bits per second, (10Mbps or 1.25MegaBytes/s). A typical Ethernet connection for a personal computer transmits information at the rate of 10 to 100 million bits per second. We may question if there is as much importance to how much is seen as there is to how quickly it is comprehended.

The time for sound would be the distance sound traveled to the ear, become aware, and then comprehended at the temporal lobe. Recent studies using language lexicon to share the time to recognize and comprehend with differences with words is approximately 200 – 300 milliseconds. That is approximately the same time to recognize an object with sight.

With touch the time is a variable with body part location. For example the big toe contrasted with the scalp. We already know a nerve impulse travels at approximately 123 MPH to the brain. A nerve impulse from the hand to the brain (4 feet) will arrive in 22 milliseconds. Presume comprehension is the same as sight and hearing thus total time approximately 325 milliseconds.

Interestingly with touch sometimes the brain is by passed. A different type of nerve receptors sense pain bypassing the brain and is followed with an impulse reaction. This is known as the spinal reflex arc. A reaction occurs before you even think about it. It is the result of receptors called nociceptors. There are nociceptors for thermal, chemical, and mechanical. An example is touching something hot or stepping on something sharp we jerk away from the sensed offending object.

What are You Focused on? What do you Sense?

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This image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain. | Source

Scenario: The car crash

A person is driving a car or is a passenger in the front seat. Another car appears (ran a red light?) in front and is not seen peripherally until approximately five feet to the side and ten feet in front and are perpendicular to each other. Both cars are traveling at 35 MPH. At impact at least three sensory systems will interact leading to become aware, comprehend, and experience the crash.

(Using this scenario one may imagine several different events occurring – driving along the freeway and a rapid lane change occurs next to you, a vehicle stops quickly in front of you or is stopped, and even veering off the road.)

Firstly, sight of the vehicle. The vehicle is seen at the speed of light and recognized in 200 - 300 milliseconds. That is the blink of an eye. The total time of comprehension is 450 - 650 milliseconds. The second car will travel the five feet in 0.097 seconds or 97 milliseconds. The cars will impact in 0.195 seconds or 195 milliseconds. One eye blink has not been completed at the time of the event – the impact. The second car has not yet been recognized as an object.

Secondly, sound would occur at impact. The sound would travel approximately half the length of the car. The elapsed time from impact to hearing a sound is 0.07 seconds or 70 milliseconds. The time to comprehend would be 250 milliseconds. Total time of noticing with comprehension is 320 milliseconds. Or, a blink of the eye. Hearing would be comprehended before sight is comprehended. That would be 1/3 of a blink later.

Next, consider reaction time. A research bell curve median is 215 milliseconds from noticing with eye or sensed. Experts use 1.5 seconds as a base number to compute perception (Comprehend an object) plus reaction time for braking with investigations. Approximately half of that time is to comprehend or perceive the sighted vehicle. That is five eye blinks. With this example the impact occurred 1.3 seconds before braking would be initiated.

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Finally, that leaves touch. Something surely will be felt at impact. The sense of touch would occur from impact say from the hand on the steering wheel. That means feeling or injury may occur within 0.041 seconds or 41 milliseconds. Time to comprehend is an additional .325 seconds or 325 milliseconds, which is a total of 0.391 seconds or 391 milliseconds. That is about the blink of an eye. We may consider that a spinal reflex arc will occur before a reaction to the original sighting of the vehicle. Possibly the driver grips the steering wheel well before lifting their foot from the accelerator to apply the brakes.

Flow of all interconnected & interacting events with the Senses

Suddenly and abruptly the second car is seen or the eye sensed the car as an object through peripheral vision

Before the first eye blink

  1. The second car is passing in front
  2. The cars impact
  3. Horrendous mechanical forces are commenced
  4. Sounds occur

One eye blink

  • The person recognizes the image as being sighted

Before Two eye blinks

  1. The person will have comprehended hearing the impact
  2. The person will have felt the impact and maybe injury
  3. A spinal reflex arc most likely will occur

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Two eye blinks

  • The person will have comprehended seeing the second car
  • The person begins reacting someway to comprehension of the vehicle seen

2,406 eye blinks

  • The police or an emergency team will have responded based on average response time of 12 minutes

How many average eye blinks to impact?

Discover Our Senses, Time, and Realization with the Video Above

We have learned how our senses interact with our environment especially while driving. We have learned none of our senses recognize and comprehend with the speed of light. We learned we react once recognition followed by comprehension occurs. Let's play and learn more.


  1. Take out your cell phone. Have a friend with you. Begin a text. Have the friend start the video. When you look up and see the video say stop. The friend then stops the video. Notice how many seconds passed by from the screeching tires to when you looked up from the cell phone to see what is occurring? Now add 1 to 1-1/2 seconds to apply your brakes.
  2. Start the video and count your normal eye blinks until you hear the screeching tires. Do the same thing for when you hear the impact. Remember they are not traveling at 60 MPH. Even though we are not sure how fast both cars are going, we know a series of events occurred, our senses recognized them, and then we comprehended them. What were your thoughts the first time seeing the video at the beginning of the article? How about the second time?


  • Have your mouse handy. Hold the mouse on the start arrow. Do not look at the screen. Maybe close your eyes. Quickly start the video and then click to stop when the sound is heard. Look to see how many seconds passed. Now add 1 to 1-1/2 seconds to apply your brakes. Try this when you hear the impact. Is there a difference in time? Do you feel or realize there was a difference of time between sensing and clicking the mouse? How about trying this with moving your foot as if applying the brakes?

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Time to Text and Pondering

The Time Texting Research shares Average time texting while driving = 5 seconds with eyes off the road. That is 16-2/3 eye blinks. How do we get there? To recognize a cell phone ring tone is approximately 300 milliseconds. One eye blink. The time to lift and touch the cell phone is 1 - 1.5 seconds. (Avg. 4 eye blinks) That is the same as reacting for braking.

Average reading speed is 225 words per minute or 3.75 words (A word is 5 characters) per second. For a five word text that is sight recognition (300 milliseconds), reading (1.3 seconds), comprehension (450 milliseconds), and reacting to what is read (215 milliseconds). That is 2.2 seconds (Total eye blinks 7-1/3 eye blinks) or 194 feet, which is 2/3 of a football field at 60 MPH.

Next, sending a reply. From the first touch of a key we have 0.07 seconds or 70 milliseconds per each character typed or eyes off the road. Five words plus the send key is 30 characters or touches or 2.1 seconds (7-1/3 eye blinks). That means the time to receive (ring tone), read, and send the text is 2.2 seconds + 2.1 seconds. Next, the eyes are returned and focused on the road. A nerve impulse of time away or .250 or 250 milliseconds. The total time of texting is 4.5 seconds and that is 15 eye blinks (396 feet or longer than a football field).

Five Seconds

  • Watch the video above. Stop it at five seconds. Consider that is the time to receive, read and send a text. What occurred in the video before completing that text?

More Pondering

The average lane width of a highway / freeway is twelve feet. Average car width is six feet. If two cars are parallel and driving evenly the distance would be six feet if centered in the lane between them. Ponder quick lane changes. Traveling at 60 MPH and someone veers at an angle of 1º it will cross into the adjacent lane over 172 feet in 1.95 seconds (Tan 89º = 172/3). That is 6-1/2 blinks of the eye. There is the same time before impact for one or both drivers to react and correct. The impact will occur before the text is read and a reply sent. Remember . . . Reaction time for braking is 1 to 1-1/2 seconds.

Average recommended following distance at 60 MPH is 293 feet (a football field) – Perception / Reaction distance 132 feet (1.5 seconds) + stopping distance 161 feet.

“Do cars with ABS stop more quickly than cars without? ABS is designed to help the driver maintain control of the vehicle during emergency braking situations, not make the car stop more quickly. ABS may shorten stopping distances on wet or slippery roads and many systems will shorten stopping distances on dry roads. On very soft surfaces, such as loose gravel or unpacked snow, an ABS system may actually lengthen stopping distances. In wet or slippery conditions, you should still make sure you drive carefully, always keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you, and maintain a speed consistent with the road conditions. (Source: U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – NHTSA)”

Tailgating. At 60 MPH do you see the ground between your car and the car in front of you. If you do not then you are about 20 - 30 feet away. That is about 0.3 seconds or 300 milliseconds. One eye blink. The same amount of time would be needed to recognize the brake light came on. Dependency for impact would be your reaction time (1.5 seconds) computed with how quickly the car in front of you is slowing.

Do We Need Three Senses to Comprehend an Event? When talking on a cell phone one sense is occupied and taken away from focused driving - hearing. When texting one sense is occupied and taken away from focused driving - sight. Should we consider touch? What occurs with the radio on, talking with the passenger, and texting simultaneously? Even though the time occupied away from being focused is milliseconds we learned an accident may occur in 195 milliseconds over ten feet in a continuum of events in space and time at 35 MPH. Using those three senses we most assuredly realize an event could occur - collision, over a total of 0.650 seconds or about 2 eye blinks. Light would have circled the earth 5 times.

Safe Following Distance & Texting Distances

Distance Traveled - Feet / MPH
Perception and Reaction Distance
Braking Distance
Total Distance
Texting Distance (1 Sec) / 3 Eye Blinks
Texting Distance (2 Sec) / 6 Eye Blinks
Texting Distance (3 Sec) / 9 Eye Blinks
Texting Distance (4 Sec) / 12 Eye Blinks
Texting Distance (5 Sec) / 15+ Eye Blinks
Distance Traveled - Feet / MPH
20 mph
20 mph
30 mph
30 mph
40 mph
40 mph
50 mph
50 mph
60 mph
60 mph
70 mph
70 mph

Thank You for Reading a tsmog Article

I hope this article was informative. A product of curiosity a result of a near miss driving incident I thought it was worth looking into. Seeing many videos of car crashes, reading articles on unsafe texting, and seeing television ads or news broadcast I wondered "just what were they thinking?" As I researched I realized possibly they may not have even sensed what was or occurred. Quite possibly the thinking of near misses only occurs well afterward. And, sadly may never occur.

© 2014 Tim Mitchell


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    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      2 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello David! Thanks for reading. Pausing to your last sentence I agree whole-heartedly 'looking out for them' is distracting too. I realize I am always on the watch what a driver is doing.

    • David Branagan profile image

      David Branagan 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Wow there is a lot of work and research out into this article. Can you get this published in a journal? It's illegal too in Ireland to text and drive and to speak on phone without handsfree, yet people still do it. Personally it drives me mad when I see this, it's careless and a disregard for other peoples safety. Their action possibly makes me more careless also as I am distracted by their actions.

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      3 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you Besarien for stopping by and commenting. I hope too others will find understanding to the dangers of distracted driving especially on the interstates / freeways. They kinda' are not free when one ponders.

    • Besarien profile image


      3 years ago

      This is a wonderfully thoughtful and well-constructed article that hopeful will convince others to drive while they are driving. Kudos for taking on a serious subject and turning a bad personal experience, your close call, into a hub that can potentially save lives. In case I am not already, I am going to be following you now. I just love direction you are headed that much!

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      3 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello Elsie! Than you for reading and sharing. I was inspired to research and write this article with a near miss on the zipping along interstate once. The other driver never noticed me while looking downward as I saw he was texting. Whew! My heart pounded after that . . .

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      3 years ago from New Zealand

      Excellent article. I have just tweeted it, hope you get many views, it may wake up some that do not take any notice and continue texting while driving, especially with that video at the top, what a mess.

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      3 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello peachpurple :-) I agree and I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I am a klutz with texting. New to that process I attempted a text and found it took me almost minutes to send a text. I certainly would not have made it down the road. I offer a nod of respect to those that are more adept at than myself, although I ponder those that are not wise in doing so not realizing their surroundings at the time.

    • peachpurple profile image


      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      when you arr driving, you can't text unless you have 4 eyes, 2 on the wheels and two on the cellphone

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you handymanbill. Hopefully more will follow. I look forward to our new articles.

    • handymanbill profile image


      4 years ago from western pennsylvania

      You spent a lot of time on this one and it is a great Hub. Voted up and uesful

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you Mary. I was very intrigued once I did researched it. I was amazed how our senses work hand in hand with how our brain functions interpreting them. It causes one to wonder about all actions and reactions. :)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      Lots of work here. I can see this being a syllabus for a teenage class. Certainly an eye opener for some of them, others of course, would "know it all".

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello MsDora. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate the comment. Yes, there is danger. A close call experience of a nearby driver was all I needed to realize how dangerous.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Scientific as well as practical illustration of the dangers of texting while driving. Great presentation! Voted Up and Useful, for sure.

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello DealForALiving :) Thank you for the visit and the time reading. That is a thought to ponder. Billboards may be more of a glance than moments of reading. I am just amazed how our senses connect and how they relate especially with the task of texting. I am not sure about the resolve. The worst part I have learned is when driving the one texting to the driver may become impatient and retext sometimes over and over. The urge or urgency arises and maybe the emotions overrule good common sense. Maybe a button that automatically sends "I am driving" would be a solution. A simple touch . . . I dun'no . . . or as the article shares is it that simple?

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you Frank :) Plus I came out of my cocoon from not writing LOL . . . maybe a little long, but all the information connects bringing to it life with understanding. Thank you for your time reading. I always value your view too! Do have a most wonderful day.

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 

      4 years ago from Earth

      Great hub! I guess people aren't looking at billboards anymore either while driving.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      4 years ago from Shelton

      tsmog a fantastic write-up and a must read voted awesome and useful :) Frank

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello proparts. Nice to see you :) I agree our priorities do play significantly with our actions. Texting while driving is just plain scary. The incident I was almost involved in the person next to me was in my lane very quickly. He had his cell in his hand on the steering wheel. That is all I knew as my heart raced, I steered away, and scared the person behind me as I braked hard. Too close.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Very complete and well written. It really explains a lot of the "accidents" we see where people pile into the back of a slow moving truck or hit someone or something along the side of the road. It's not really an accident, they chose a selfish act by texting... and how urgent was the message, I'm sure not as important as someone's life. It's all about the "blinks of the eye" and what you're focused on...

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello Sannel. Thank you for visiting and the comment. I am happy you don' text and drive. That is a good thing. Let's hope that maybe just one will realize texting and driving do not mix :-)

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you colbeyfreddie. I appreciate your comment. Yes we all must ponder texting and driving. There seems to be a lot of evidence attributing it as cause for accidents.

    • profile image

      Sannel Larson 

      4 years ago

      This hub is awesome, Mitch! You have put a lot of research and work into this one. I have never, and will never text while driving. It's just common sense not to do it. I believe, whoever reads this hub, will think twice to text while driving after this. Thumbs up!!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This is actually a great piece of work.

      I certainly won't be texting while driving.

    • kj force profile image


      4 years ago from Florida

      tsmog...High 5 on that one !...have a great day

    • tsmog profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you kj! I get a kick out of that too. I even get a giggle walking to the store and people almost walk into me reading a phone. It is amazing isn't it! When driving in the city I always turn off my radio. I want to hear a siren or a car's screeching tires. After this research I decided I won't parallel right next to a car on the interstate any more except when traffic forbids it.

    • kj force profile image


      4 years ago from Florida

      tsmog.. Awesome and very well researched and written article...

      I love when you are a passenger and the driver is reading a text, weaving over into the other lane and you make comment, and their response is " I have it under control " with horns blaring from other cars, screeching tires etc. OMG ! what did we do before ALL this technology ? Perhaps this is why we could multitask and not get a headache...hmmm

      I am sharing this one thanks...


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