92% of all adults in the UK own and use a mobile phone. For the first time ever in the UK, mobile phone usage has outstripped land line use, with over half of all calls being made by mobile phones. The average Briton now sends 50 texts per week. The younger generation significantly more.
In recent years there has been a great deal of interest in the extent of texting whilst driving. Despite the dangers, 48% of UK drivers aged 18 – 24 admit to using short message services (SMS) whilst driving – a group already at much higher risk of being involved in a crash. This fact led the Foundation to commission a simulator study on ‘The Effect of Text Messaging on Driver Behaviour’, which concluded that texting behind the wheel impairs driving skills more than being drunk or on drugs.
Texting whilst driving – impairment to reaction times in comparison to previous studies:
Source: Reed, N. and Robbins, R. (2008) The Effect of Text Messaging On Driver Behaviour. A Simulator Study. Published Project Report PPR367. TRL
This was the first study in the UK of its kind. In all the key measures of driving performance assessed, young people who were texting were badly affected:
- reaction times deteriorated by over one-third (35%). This was worse than alcohol at the legal limit (12% slower) and driving under the influence of cannabis (21% slower);
- drivers drifted out of their lane more often. Steering control was 91% worse, compared to 35% worse when under the influence of cannabis;
- the ability to maintain a safe following distance fell; and
- TRL’s experts concluded that ‘In real world traffic situations, it is suggested that poorer control of vehicle speed, lateral position, and increased reaction times in this situation would increase the likelihood of collision dramatically.’
The best estimates are that around 1% of the total fatalities on the roads each year are related to mobile phone use. This data is not without its limitations, in particular under reporting, but it gives some indication of the consequences associated with this type of distracted driving. The use of mobile phones is not the biggest killer on the roads but today’s news that ministers are considering stiffening the penalties for the offence show that it is one being taken seriously in Whitehall.