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Dangers of texting whilst driving revealed

September 21, 2008

Texting behind the wheel impairs driving skills more than being drunk or high, according to new research carried out by TRL for the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, published this week.

Despite the danger, 48% of UK drivers aged 18 – 24* admit to using short message services (SMS) whilst driving – a group already at much higher risk of being involved in a crash.

Publicity and legislation has to date focused on the risks of speaking on a mobile phone while driving, overlooking the fact that phones are also used for texting, picture messaging and web surfing. Nearly 5,000 texts are sent every second in the UK**.

The RAC Foundation is calling for urgent investment in a high-profile education campaign, designed to raise awareness among those young people who have grown up with mobile phones, that texting and driving puts themselves, their friends, and other road users at unacceptable risk.

Carrying out the first UK research into the effects of texting while driving, the RAC Foundation and TRL used TRL’s driving simulator to research the effects of writing, reading and ignoring text messages on the driving skills of a test group of 17 – 24 year old motorists. In all key measures of driving performance, young people who were texting and driving were badly affected:-· reaction times deteriorated by over one-third (35%). This was worse than alcohol at the legal limit (12% slower) and driving under the influence of cannabis (21% slower)· drivers drifted out of their lane more often. Steering control was 91% worse, compared to 35% worse when under the influence of cannabis.· the ability to maintain a safe following distance fell.

TRL’s experts concluded that “In real world traffic situations, it is suggested that poorer control of vehicle speed, lateral position, and increased reaction times in this situation would increase the likelihood of collision dramatically.” Comparing the level of distraction caused by texting to previous TRL studies*** into the impairment effects of drugs, alcohol (at the legal limit) and speaking on a mobile, the report concludes that texting had the greatest impact on lane positioning; and the second greatest impact on reaction times, second only to using a hand-held phone, making texting while driving more risky than driving while on drugs or under the influence of alcohol.

The RAC Foundation is not calling for new laws as a result of the research: while a loophole in the current law means that texting could be legal provided the phone is in a cradle, a driver who is deemed not to be in proper control of their vehicle because they are distracted can already be given a fixed penalty of £60 and three penalty points. If a driver is involved in an incident or a crash while texting on a phone, the Crown Prosecution Service has said that a charge of dangerous driving will be their starting point. There must, however, be high-profile enforcement of these laws, leading to prosecutions where appropriate.

* RAC Foundation poll of 2002 Facebook users.

** Mobile Data Association report, February 2008.

*** Full details of the comparative impact of different impairments:

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