How well can you text and drive? Try the NYT game to find out

| August 18, 2009

Have you tried this? Last month, The New York Times posted an online game that gages the impact of distraction on players’ reaction times.

Users drive through the gates by hitting the corresponding gate number on the keyboard, while simultaneously texting on an onscreen QWERTY with a mouse. If you’re good at Rock band or Guitar Hero, you stand a pretty good chance of doing well. As for me — well, not so much.

I gave it a try, and the following are my results. If you want to try as well, click here. But you may want to do it before reading the next paragraph. I give something away there that you might not want to know beforehand — that is, if you want more honest results.

Okay, so I drove 0.29 seconds slower when texting and “driving” than when playing undistracted, and I missed 5% more gates. (The average user reaction times are 0.24 seconds slower, and 8% more gates missed.) Looking at that, I thought, “Well, not great, but not so horrible.” Then I saw the bottom of the page and grimaced: I totally missed The Gray Lady standing on the side of the road.

In fact, I ran the game again, knowing she was there somewhere, and still didn’t see her. It took me three tries to spot her. So if I were actually driving, and this was someone trying to flag help, a child about to wander into the street or a dog zooming into my path, I wouldn’t even notice. That’s just disturbing.

The more I played, the better I got of course. But in real life, scores don’t matter. Even if you’re a master multitasker — like this crazy dude — all it takes is one wrong moment for disaster to strike.

(P.S. Thanks for the link to the crazy motorcyclist, dynamud. It’s both entertaining and horrifying at the same time.)