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Dangers of Texting Whilst Driving

Behaviour - Dangers of Texting Whilst Driving
Client: RAC Foundation
Completion Date: 2008
Location: England

In February 2008, the RAC Foundation reported the results of a survey of more than 2000 Facebook users which had examined their tendencies to use a mobile phone for texting whilst driving. The report revealed that 45% of UK drivers used short message services (SMS) whilst driving, particularly young drivers and those with a keen interest in technology. To develop this research further, the RAC Foundation commissioned TRL to study the level of impairment caused by texting whilst driving.

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 21%.

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.

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