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Texting Drivers Biggest Danger On UK Roads

By raccars Published

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A new study, by Berkshire's Transport Research Laboratory, has pinpointed texting as the most dangerous behaviour at the wheel, ahead of making a call on a mobile phone and even drink driving. The laboratory runs high tech simulations to measure drivers' skills and reaction times to certain stimuli, including texting, making a phone call both hands free and using a handset, eating a sandwich and after drinking alcohol.

Test subjects 'drive' a Honda Civic that is in fact stationary within the laboratory's simulator. It projects ultra-lifelike film of a motorway all around the car, which feels and moves like it's really on the road. The subject's driving behaviour, including speed, road position, braking and eye movements, are then recorded and analysed by a set of computers to judge their ability to concentrate at the wheel while being distracted.

The TRL experiment measured behaviour while driving without distractions, then compared it by simulating a hands free conversation, including posing some basic maths questions and asking the subject to repeat sentences. Reaction times while performing the task were measured by asking the 'driver' to flash their headlights when they notice a red bar light up on the screen ahead. Reaction times to the task were noticeably slower than while driving without any distractions.

Similarly, when making a call hands free, subjects were far less likely to maintain a consistent distance from the vehicle in front or to be able to negotiate bends and curves in the road smoothly.

Reaction times were even worse for drivers making a call using a handset. This behaviour is not only illegal in the UK, it has also been named as the habit most hated by other British drivers, even ahead of tailgating.

Like hands free telephoning, drinking, eating and smoking at the wheel are not illegal, but police can bring a charge of careless driving if they feel the result is a lack of control of the vehicle. Testing showed, however, that those eating a sandwich are nearly as badly distracted as the texters and even worse than drink drivers.

Texting or tapping out emails on a smartphone while driving is illegal, but about half of drivers in the 18-24 age group admit to doing it on a regular basis. However, this behaviour returned the worst results in all categories. This is because the number of distractions is multiplied - not only are drivers obliged to take a hand off the wheel but also to read text and work out what to write in response.

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