Phone driving like drink driving

Using a mobile phone while driving has been shown to be as dangerous as drink driving.

People who use a mobile phone while driving have slower reaction times and a greater risk of accidents, according to a new study from the Utah University in the US.

“We found that people are as impaired when the drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit,” says Frank Drews, one of the study’s authors, an assistant professor of psychology.

Drews and team tested the driving performance of 40 volunteers in a driving simulator. In separate 15-minute trials participants drove undistracted, while using a mobile phone, while using a hands-free mobile phone and with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%.

They found that talking on a mobile phone and a hands-free mobile phone were equally damaging to driver performance.

Motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes, displayed 24 percent more variation in following distance, were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking and were more likely to crash. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car.

Drivers drunk at the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level drove a bit more slowly than both undistracted drivers and drivers using cell phones, yet more aggressively. They followed the pace car more closely, were twice as likely to brake only four seconds before a collision would have occurred, and hit their brakes with 23 percent more force.

“The impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.,” the authors state.

The study has strong implications for motorists. “It means that driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as or maybe worse than driving drunk, which is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by society,” says Drews.

“Fortunately, the percentage of drunk drivers at any time is much lower, Drews continues, “So it means the risk of talking on a cell phone and driving is probably much higher than driving intoxicated because more people are talking on cell phones while driving than are driving drunk.”

As to why there are not more accidents caused by mobile phone use while driving, Drews suggests, “92% of drivers are not on a cell phone and are compensating for drivers on cell phones.”

The present study is one of a series by the team of researchers to have found that mobile phone use impairs driving performance. In 2001 they showed that hands-free mobile phones are as distracting as hand-held mobile phones. In 2003 they found that drivers engaged in conversations on their mobile phones suffered from “inattention blindness” in which they failed to accurately perceive road conditions. In 2005 they found that when teenagers and young adults talk on mobile phones their reaction times are as slow as those of elderly drivers.

The study was published in the June 29 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

from 'EMR and Health' Sept 2006, vol 2 no 3