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Dangers of Texting Whilst Driving

In February 2008, the RAC Foundation reported the results of a survey of more than 2000 users of the social networking site Facebook. It examined tendencies to use a mobile phone for texting whilst driving.

Dangers of Texting Whilst Driving

The report revealed that 45% of UK drivers use 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. A similar methodology was used to previous studies conducted at TRL where the simulator has been used to investigate the impairment caused by mobile phone conversations, alcohol and cannabis.

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. In the earlier studies, alcohol consumption to the legal limit caused a 12% reaction time increase whilst cannabis caused reaction times to slow by 21%. It was also noticed than when texting, drivers 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 and the driven vehicle drifted into adjacent lanes far more frequently when texting. This risk is not mitigated by speed reduction and would lead the driven vehicle into potential conflict with other traffic.

In part of the trial, drivers were required to navigate a series of sweeping bends whilst trying to read and write text messages. A further interesting result revealed that, in this section, female drivers showed much greater variability in lateral lane position than male drivers. Indeed, more than 90% of the observed lane departures were by female participants. However, the female participants also tended to show greater speed reductions when texting compared to the male participants, indicating that they may have had greater awareness that their driving was impaired. 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.


For more information on this project, please contact Nick Reed on +44 (0)1344 770046 or


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