Text messaging at the wheel ‘just as dangerous as drink-driving’

21st March 2013

Using a mobile phone while at the wheel has been found to be as dangerous to drivers and other road users as being considerably over the drink-drive limit.

This is according to a new international inquiry, which worked to highlight to motorists just how much of a risk they are taking by sending even a single text message while out on the road.

For one, the research, which was carried out by scientists from the University of Barcelona and representatives of several institutes across Australia, suggested that texting at the wheel was as dangerous to drivers as them being a quarter over the UK’s legal drink-drive limit.

In fact, the inquiry, full details of which have been published in the latest edition of the Traffic Injury Prevention journal, underlined that sending text messages while driving leads to “significant risks”.

However, it was not just writing text messages on a handheld device that puts motorists and other road users in huge amounts of danger.

The research went on to reveal that there are risks involved with having a deep, thoughtful conversation while at the wheel – even if this is while using a hands-free mobile phone.

Dr Sumie Leung Shuk Man, a co-author of the international study, commented on this particular point, by stating: “Our results suggest that the use of hands-free devices could also put drivers at risk.

“Although they should be allowed, they require more research to determine how they should be regulated.”

In order to reach its conclusions, the scientists involved in the study opted to compare the effects of mobile phone use while driving with the consequences of getting behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol.

In Australia, for example, researchers used 12 healthy volunteers who all held driving licences and asked them to complete a collection of driving tasks over two separate days.

On one of the days, those involved in the study were analysed for such driving abilities as sticking to a set speed limit, braking reaction time, speed deviation and lane changing while either not using a mobile phone at all, holding a regular conversation using a hands-free device, taking part in a demanding conversation over the same device or sending text messages.

Then on a separate day, the same volunteers were tasked to drink alcohol to reach three different blood alcohol concentration levels – 0.04, 0.07 and 0.10 – and then once again monitored on the same four driving abilities.

At the end of the study, the Australian scientists found that road skills declined at the same rate in volunteers 25 per cent over the drink-drive limit as those who text messaged while behind the wheel.

Dr Shuk Man concluded: “The findings … suggest that very simple conversations on a mobile phone may not represent a significant driving risk compared with legally permissible blood alcohol levels.

“Cognitively demanding, hands-free conversation and particularly texting represent significant risks.”

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