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Talking on Mobile Phone While Driving is More Dangerous than Being Drunk Behind the Wheel: British Study

March 22, 2002

A British study published March 22 indicates that talking on a mobile phone while driving is more dangerous than being drunk behind the wheel. Tests carried out by scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) established that driving behaviour is impaired more by using a mobile phone than by being over the legal alcohol limit. In 2000, more than 520 people lost their lives as a result of accidents involving drunk drivers. Now leading British insurer Direct Line, who commissioned the study, is hoping its findings will lend support to calls for a total ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. A bill introduced by Janet Anderson, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, receives its second reading in early April. The Direct Line study, carried out over three months by the TRL, involved testing the reaction times and driving performance of a panel of volunteers using a sophisticated driving simulator. Researchers tested how driving impairment was affected by talking on a hand-held mobile phone, a hands-free phone, and when drivers had consumed enough alcohol to be above the legal drink-drive limit. The results demonstrate that drivers' reaction times were, on average, 30 percent slower when talking on a hand-held mobile phone compared to being drunk and nearly 50 percent slower than under normal driving conditions. According to the tests, drivers were less able to maintain a constant speed and found it more difficult to keep a safe distance from the car in front. Using a hand-held mobile phone had the greatest impact on driving performance. On average it took hand-held mobile phone users half a second longer to react than normal, and a third of a second longer to react compared to when they were drunk. At 70 mph, this half-second difference is equivalent to traveling an additional 46 feet before reacting to a hazard on the road. Using a hands-free mobile phone also proved to be a considerable distraction for drivers. In fact, participants in the study stated that they found it easier to drive drunk than when using any mobile phone -- hand-held OR hands-free. In addition, drivers using either a hands-free or hand-held mobile phone missed significantly more road warning signs than when drunk. Direct Line commissioned the TRL research following a recent survey it conducted that found that four out of 10 drivers in the United Kingdom - equivalent to around 10 million U.K. motorists - admit to using a mobile phone behind the wheel."Most people accept that talking on a mobile phone while driving is distracting; however, many drivers don't appreciate how dangerous it is," said Dominic Burch, Direct Line's road safety campaign manager. "That is why we chose to quantify the risk involved by comparing driving performance while using a mobile phone to driving while over the legal alcohol limit. Drink driving is clearly an established danger in the eyes of drivers. "We were surprised to discover that talking on a mobile phone is actually more dangerous than being drunk behind the wheel. In effect, this means that 10 million drivers are partaking in a driving activity that is potentially more dangerous than being drunk. "Based on these findings, we are supporting Janet Anderson MP in her attempt to introduce new legislation calling for a total ban on the use of hand-held mobiles while driving. In addition we are calling on the government to conduct further research into the dangers of using hands-free mobile phones. "We believe there needs to be a high profile public awareness campaign informing drivers of the dangers they face by using mobile phones. Eventually we would like to see the use of mobile phones when driving, both hands-held and hands-free, become as socially unacceptable as drunk driving," Burch said.
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