Driving advice How dangerous is texting and driving?
In 2007, using a handheld mobile phone behind the wheel became an endorsable offence. This meant that anyone caught chatting, texting or checking their email while driving could be given penalty points and a £60 fine.
Immediately after the new rules were introduced, there was a drop in the number of offences detected. But in 2008 the figures began to rise again, and the government is now considering raising the fine from £60 to £90.
Watch our mobile phone research video
How dangerous is using a mobile phone while driving?
It’s frustrating to encounter someone driving very badly, and then discover that they’re chatting away on their phone or texting. But just how dangerous is it to use a phone while driving?
The latest official statistics (for 2010) show that, out of a total of 1,850 road deaths, careless driving contributed to 370 of them. But no recent statistics for phone-specific accidents are available from the government, so we did our own testing.
To find out how different types of phone use can affect concentration, we sent three researchers to a research centre in Berkshire, where simulators gauged their driving ability and reaction times in various states of distraction. They drove while sober (as a control), and while at the legal alcohol limit. On a separate day they drove while using their phone to chat and text.
For all three researchers, the average time taken to react to hazards when sober and not distracted was just over a second. After drinking, their reaction time rose to 1.2 seconds, and it was fractionally higher still when speaking sober on a hands-free kit or handheld mobile phone. So even though it’s legal to use a hands-free kit while driving, our researchers found it just as distracting as using a handheld mobile.
Texting behind the wheel is highly dangerous
Texting is worst
When attempting to write a text message, the average reaction time jumped to two seconds. In all but one of the tests, texting diminished our drivers’ abilities more than drinking, or any other type of phone use we tested in our research. They got closer to the car in front, by an average of around 12 metres, suggesting those who text and drive are more likely to tailgate. Their tendency to drift between lanes also increased. One of our researchers even ‘crashed’ while attempting to send a text message.
Mobile phone tips
- Never use a handheld phone while driving - it's dangerous and illegal.
- Hands-free phone use is legal, but can be as distracting as using a handheld phone.
- Academic evidence suggests education is more effective than paying a fine.