Road Safety News

Texting behind the wheel is as dangerous as drink driving

Monday 18th March 2013

Writing text messages while driving is as dangerous as being considerably above the legal drink drive limit, researchers have found (Telegraph).

An international inquiry concluded that sending messages on a mobile phone leads to “significant risks”. Researchers found that it was as dangerous as being a quarter over the legal drink drive limit.

The study, published in the Traffic Injury Prevention journal, also found that having deep, thoughtful conversations while using a hands-free mobile phone was a danger.

In contrast, simple discussions may not carry significant driving risks, according to scientists from the University of Barcelona and several Australian institutes.

12 healthy volunteers - all students who held a driving licence - completed a series of driving tasks on two separate days, a week apart. Driving performance was assessed by time within a target speed range. The study looked at speeding, braking reaction time, speed deviation, and lane changing.

One day, the group members used a mobile phone while they performed a “simulated driving task” under four conditions. These included no phone usage, talking naturally with a hands-free device, holding a demanding conversation over a hands-free phone, and text messaging.

On the other day, the volunteers used a driving simulator after drinking alcohol to reach three different blood alcohol concentration levels: 0.04, equivalent to 40 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and half the legal limit in Britain; 0.07; and 0.10. Some drank no alcohol.

The results showed that road skills declined by an equal amount among volunteers 25% above the legal drink limit and those who used their phone for text messages.

When using hands-free phones during “simple” conversations, it was similar to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.04. If more attention was required, the reading “shot up” to the blood alcohol equivalent of 0.07.

Dr Sumie Leung Shuk Man, co-author of the study, said: “Our results suggest that the use of hands-free devices could also put drivers at risk. Although they should be allowed, they require more research to determine how they should be regulated.”

Dr Shuk Man, of the University of Barcelona, said: “The findings… suggest that very simple conversations on a mobile phone may not represent a significant driving risk compared with legally permissible blood alcohol levels.

“Cognitively demanding, hands-free conversation and particularly texting represent significant risks.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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If some things are so "obvious that research is academic" as Hugh Jones states then can we please ban television programmes concerning road safety from including interviews with "experts" as they drive on public roads please? Actually I do not agree with Hugh and would want to see evidence to support this proposal. Any ban would also include any television programme not just road safety ones by the way! Our safety interventions are being led more and more by data to effectively target finite resources so we need to be sure what we do is likely to work.
Nick Hughes, Lancashire

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

Have any Government really got the will to implement legislation that stops a massive swath of the voting public to stop using their phones, no more than the Drink Drive laws change? With vested interest I imagine from many politicians in organisations that benefit from both mobile phones and alcohol. Being cynical, as long as the financial benefits outweigh losses, where is the will?

Agree (6) | Disagree (6)

What saddens me is the fact that despite there being ample evidence that phone conversations while driving were a serious problem, even when hands free, our legislators created a defective law which permits people to be distracted whilst at the wheel. So while I agree that robust research is needed, we must also press for sensible laws to be based upon it, and not the whim of Parliament.
David, Suffolk

Agree (4) | Disagree (5)

With respect to those who previous commented, isn't it the case though that some things are so obvious that research is academic? It should be self-evident that texting whilst driving and drink-driving are both potentially dangerous and whether one is more or less dangerous than the other is not really the point - both activities obviously are.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (3)

One of the problems has been locating road safety related research and reports - there is a wealth of information available but until relatively recently it was not referenced in one place. This situation is being addressed via the Road Safety Knowledge Centre ( which now references more than 2,000 items of road safety 'knowledge', archived by road safety theme/user (drink driving, speed, young drivers etc) and date of publication.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety GB newsfeed

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)

You are absolutely correct. My reference to the Internet was not sourcing anecdotal evidence, but rather the plethora of credible published research in the public domain highlighting the issues you have mentioned. I must admit that if a Dr publishes recent research from a University I guess it's funded you would tend to think it may be fairly unique in its findings.

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

Well, we may all think that this is blindingly obvious but it does require robust research and evidence to demonstrate that what we think is so, is correct - and it isn't always the case. Then we need to understand the how and why to support the right legislation, education and remedial measures.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (12) | Disagree (0)

Although it appears as good research, it is a shame that time and money has been directed towards such a project, when the outcome and results could be forecast by anyone with access to the Internet. Sometimes European research seems so disjointed.

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)