TO HOLD or not to hold, that is the question.

A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study seems to have found the answer.

The study, released in January, shows a stark dichotomy between drivers using hands-free devices and those pretending to drive while playing with their phones.

Although it might seem like stating the obvious, studies like this are important with the increasing problem of distracted driving.

“Any activity that places either visual or manual demands on the driver— texting, browsing or dialing a hand-held phone, for instance—substantially increases crash risk,” Tom Dingus, director of the institute and the principal investigator of the study, said in a news release.

He said the study shows that “the primarily cognitive secondary task of talking on a hands-free device does not appear to have any detrimental effects.”

Using video and sensor data, researchers analyzed more than 3,400 drivers for impacts caused by cognitive distractions (hands-free) as well as drivers doing such things as texting or fiddling with the radio.

They discovered that drivers using a “hand-held phone increased their crash risk by 2 to 3.5 times compared to model drivers, defined as being alert, attentive, and sober. When a combination of cognitive secondary tasks was observed, the crash risk also went up, although not to nearly the same degree.”

Perhaps more interesting, the study found that in some cases hands-free cellphone use “was associated with a lower crash rate” than drivers just driving.

“The phone conversation could also serve as a countermeasure to fatigue on longer road trips,” Dingus explained. “Perhaps most importantly, a driver who is talking on a hands-free phone is less likely to engage in manual texting/browsing/dialing and other much higher-risk behaviors.”

Distracted driving has quickly become a rival of the other two big crash causes: drunken driving and speeding.

Here’s what the preliminary 2018 Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles stats show:

Distracted driving: 24,351 crashes; 126 deaths; 13,732 injuries.

Alcohol-related: 7,088 crashes; 176 deaths; 4,432 injuries.

Speeding: 25,892 crashes; 339 deaths; 13,346 injuries.

Stafford road

closure extended

Last year’s heavy rainfall has impacted a safety project on a section of Brooke Road.

The section of road near Stagecoach Road was closed to through traffic in September and was slated to reopen in January, Stafford spokeswoman Shannon Howell said in a news release. But the rain stalled work, leading to an extension on the road closure, with the reopening now set for July.

“The extended closure was identified as an efficiency to recoup the lost weather delays, maintain construction costs and reduce the likelihood of future closures,” she stated.

The extended closure could result in the work being finished sooner than the planned March 2020 completion, Howell added.

“I know this is a sacrifice for regular users of Brooke Road,” Stafford Supervisor Tom Coen said in the same news release. “But anyone who has ever seen this road knows it is a dangerous stretch of curves. We are working hard to correct this road and save lives.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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