TRL's car driving simulator was used to ensure that the study
was carried out in safe, controlled conditions and to enable
detailed analysis of performance. 17 young drivers were recruited
to take part in the study, all aged between 17 and 24.
Drivers completed one drive as normal (undistracted) and one
drive in which they were required to complete a number of text
messaging tasks (reading and writing). It was found that
participants were significantly impaired in their performance when
both reading and writing text messages, with the latter producing
the greatest impairment. Reaction times to trigger stimuli
were around 35% slower when writing a text message. This compares
to an earlier distraction study looking at alcohol consumption to
the legal limit where an increase in reaction time of 12% was
recorded, whilst with cannabis, the reaction time slowed by
Drivers who were texting slowed significantly, indicating that
they recognised the impairment caused by their texting activities
and were attempting to mitigate risk by reducing speed. However,
drivers also showed significantly greater lateral variability in
their lane position when texting, with the vehicle drifting into
adjacent lanes far more frequently when texting. This risk is not
mitigated by speed reduction and would lead the driver into
potential conflict with other traffic.
Overall, the study highlighted that when texting whilst driving,
a driver may present a greater accident risk than when at the legal
limit for alcohol consumption and reinforced that young drivers
should refrain from this dangerous activity.
The RAC Foundation was provided with a report that quantified
the impairment caused by texting whilst driving and contrasted this
with other typical impairments. The report received significant,
widespread media coverage.