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Texting While Driving - More Dangerous than Drinking or Smoking Cannabis

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Texting while driving impairs driving skills more than being drunk or high, according to new research carried out by the UK's Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the roadside assistance organisation, the Royal Automobile Club (RAC). Despite the danger, nearly half (48%) of UK drivers aged 18 24 admit to using 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.

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.

The study found that 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 also drifted out of their lane more often. Steering control was 91% worse, compared to 35% worse when under the influence of cannabis.

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.

All participants in the study described themselves as confident texters. Despite this, messages, which at a desk took an average of 22 seconds to compose, took on average 63 seconds when the texter was also driving.

Professor Stephen Glaister, Director of the RAC Foundation, said: "The participants in this study were almost unanimous in their view that drink driving was the most dangerous action on the road. Yet this research clearly shows that a motorist who is texting is significantly more impaired than a motorist at the legal limit for alcohol. No responsible motorist would drink and drive. We need to ensure that text devotees understand that texting is one of the most hazardous things that can be done while in charge of a motor car."

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