Texting While Driving Worse Than Drinking, Study Shows
March 13, 2013

Texting While Driving Worse Than Drinking, Study Shows

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Scientists reported in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention texting while driving is just as dangerous as driving drunk while being twice over the legal limit.

Researchers from various universities compared the effects of mobile use while driving with the effects of alcohol using a simulation. They found using a hands-free kit or sending a text message is the same as driving above the legal alcohol limit.

The team measured the reaction capacity behind the wheel of twelve healthy volunteers who participated in a driving simulation test lasting two days. Participants in the study either used a mobile phone while driving or consumed alcohol beforehand. Habitual drinkers, and those who had never consumed alcohol before, were not allowed to participate in the test.

During the simulation, the researchers ensured that participants kept their proper position in the center of the left lane on the screen, and that they maintained a speed of between 37- and 50-mph. Participants who were using the mobile phone wore headphones and a microphone to simulate the hands-free effect, while the drunk participants had a blood alcohol level (BAC) that was above the legal limit.

The scientists found when the conversation using the hands-free was simple, it had an effect on the driver comparable to a BAC level well below the legal limit, 0.8 g/l. However, when the conversation required more attention, they drove with the skill of someone who was just a point away from getting a DUI, at 0.7 g/l. When the participants texted with their phone, rather than used the handset for calls, they drove with a comparable BAC at 1.0 g/l.

"Our results suggest that the use of handsfree devices could also put drivers at risk," said Sumie Leung Shuk Man, co-author of the study. "Although they should be allowed, they require more research to determine how they should be regulated and, of course, the thorough knowledge that national authorities should have regarding their pros and cons."

Companies are pushing for the development of new technology to keep people from texting while driving. AT&T announced last August it would be challenging device makers to work with smartphones to include pre-loaded, no-text-and-drive software solutions. The company also kicked off its "It Can Wait" campaign, urging drivers to sign a pledge to not text and drive anymore.

There is also an application for iPhones and Android phones that helps to keep distracted drivers from using their phone. The Canary Project costs $9.99 for a lifetime subscription that includes up to 10 smartphones. The app sends the subscriber alerts about a driver's smartphone use on the road, so parents can know whether their teen is texting while driving. Canary also alerts parents when a child violates a curfew or travels into areas that are "off limits."