Which? reveals danger of texting at the wheel Texting is more distracting than drink-driving

18 September 2012

With ownership of smart phones on the rise, there’s more temptation than ever to respond to a text or update your Facebook profile on the move. So Which? decided to find out just how distracting it is to text while driving.

We asked three researchers, aged in their 20s, 30s and 40s, to drive in a simulator under five different conditions: without distraction, talking hands-free on a mobile, taking on a handheld phone, texting, and driving at the legal alcohol limit - as this is also known to impair reaction times.

Watch our driving simulator research video


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Video transcript

We've all been stuck behind someone driving erratically, swerving out of their lane or inexplicably slowing down. I can guarantee that every time it happens to me, when I get to see the driver they've either got their phone stuck to their ear or they've got their head down texting, but just how dangerous is it driving and using a mobile phone?

And is it worse than drink driving? We went to the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire to find out. We did four different tests in a simulator they were: talking hands free, talking on a hand held mobile, texting, and driving at the legal alcohol limit. Before we started the test We did a control run without distractions.

The simulator had three cameras watching the driver to see how much time they spent looking at the road and how quick their reactions were. The cameras were hooked up to a control room where TRL's experts recorded each drivers performance. So, let's see how we got on. It was significantly harder to drive, definitely.

Very noticeably much harder to drive and keep on doing everything without getting distracted. I found it really difficult because I was also trying to concentrate on the road and there were hazards such as cars pulling out, braking suddenly also had to try to keep the car in the center of the lane when going around corners and generally it was just a lot to concentrate on I did manage to stay on the road.

Even so, answering questions and generally conversing on the phone it was a lot more difficult than simply driving. I tried to do the headlight thing when I saw the red bar and trying to change lanes on motorway as well, doing all that and talk on the phone was really quite difficult. Difficult to maintain concentration on the road while speaking into the phone and getting accurate answers as well.

I found that difficult, but Towards the end I felt myself speeding up as well without realizing while I was there, having the conversation on the phone. I felt like I certainly had to concentrate more than when I had to solve those mental arithmetic problems that I had while talking on the hands free, but I'm sure it hasn't impaired my reaction times

Really, it's much more difficult to go round corners and spot Red bars that meant you were supposed to flash your headlights so much slower doing both of those things. One of the bends that we were supposed to take constant 40 miles an hour. I've just spun the car out, and crashed, which, even after a considerable amount of alcohol. I didn't do. I definitely found it more difficult when I was texting, I'd swerve out in the lanes a couple of times and notice my speed increase, actually, as well.

and it was really, really difficult. Even trying to text one handed. It was really difficult trying to keep an eye on the road as well. You just I just wasn't paying any attention to the road at all while I was texting. When driving at the legal alcohol limit we experience an 11% reduction in attention.

While using a mobile, handheld and hands free. This raised to a nineteen percent drop in attention when testing When texting this raised to a staggering seventy nine percent drop in attention. This was the only test when somebody actually crashed the car. Road deaths were up by nearly three percent in 2011. It's the first they've gone up in nearly a decade.

One reason for this could be the growing number of people using mobile phones while driving. snapshot research shows just how dangerous it can be to drive while using a hand held mobile phone. We think that tougher action needs to be taken by the police and the government. Have your say by clicking the link below

Texting causes huge drop in attention

The results were alarming: the researchers experienced an 11% level of impairment while at the legal alcohol limit, a 19% reduction in attention to the road while using a handheld and hands-free mobile, and a staggering 79% reduction in attention while texting. One of our researchers even veered off the virtual road and crashed while sending a text.

To understand what’s being done to reduce the number of phone-related accidents on real roads, Which? contacted each of the UK’s 52 police authorities.

We asked each to tell us how many mobile phone use offences it had recorded in the past five years and how the offences had been resolved.
We found that most offenders had paid a fixed penalty fine, and that only 11 of the 52 police forces offered any kind of awareness course for those caught using a handheld mobile.

Tougher action should be taken

Which? believes that tougher action needs to be taken by the police and government, and we have shared our findings with the Department for Transport and the charity Brake, which campaigns on road safety issues.

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