Drivers who text on the road are in far more danger than intoxicated drivers. That is according to a new study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).
TRL recruited 17 young drivers between the ages of 17 and 24 and had them perform driving simulation tests to see how their driving would be affected by reading and writing text messages without putting them in real danger. The results show those who occupied themselves with text messages, either by reading or writing them, had slower reactions times by 35%. By comparison, drunk drivers displayed a 12% decrease in reaction time, while drivers intoxicated with cannabis had slowed response times by 21%.
"Overall, the study highlighted that when texting whilst driving, a driver may present a greater accident risk than when at the legal limit for alcohol consumption and reinforced that young drivers should refrain from this dangerous activity," says TRL.
The study also shows that texting drivers tend to slow down while tapping on their phones' keyboards to reduce risk, but not having both eyes on the road means greater likelihood of drifting to other lanes and potentially putting other drivers in danger.
TRL says the study was conducted following a 2008 Facebook survey that revealed that almost half or 45% of the respondents, composed mostly of young drivers in the U.K., said they used their phones to send or read text messages while driving. But while texting is one of the worst driving distractions, driving while talking on a hand-held phone is still, by far, the most dangerous activity that can distract drivers from focusing on the road. According to TRL, holding one phone in one hand and driving with the other reduces reaction time by almost half or 46%.
"The best deterrent for this kind of dangerous behaviour is the certainty of being detected," says road safety minister Robert Goodwill, who intends to make a proposal for tougher punishments for drivers who use their phones either by texting or calling while driving. "I will see if we need to change the penalties."
The effort to remove texting and calling while on British roads started in 2004, with sanctions beginning with an initial fine of £30. In 2007, the fine was raised to £70 and three penalty points. Just last year, the fine went up again to £100 and a £1,000 if convicted in court.
In 2012, the Department of Transportation announced that texting or driving behind the wheel caused 378 accidents that led to 17 recorded deaths and 548 injuries.