Distracted driving from cell phone use has become one of the most dangerous and common causes of car accidents in America. The cognitive, visual, and physical distraction of using a cell phone while driving can greatly reduce a person's situational awareness and skyrocket their chances of being involved in an accident. But how do these risks compare to the dangers of driving while intoxicated?
According to the results of a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Utah, driving while using a cellphone is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Study participants who drove while on the phone displayed a 9 percent slower reaction time when braking, a 24 percent variation in following distance when switching attention from driving and using the phone, and were 19 percent slower to return to normal speed after braking than undistracted drivers. Three distracted participants ended up rear-ending the experiment's pace car.
Participants who were observed while driving drunk showed equally risky behavior. Drunk drivers drove slower but more aggressively than both distracted and undistracted drivers and pressed on the brakes with 23 percent more force. Despite these findings, accident rates, reaction times, or recovery of speed remained generally constant between the two test groups.
What Does the NHTSA Say?
While the results of the University of Utah's test indicated minimal differences between the dangers of drunk driving and texting while driving, others say differently. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), texting while driving is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. The agency also reported that in 2014 alone, 3,179 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers, with approximately 431,000 others being injured. In the average time it takes a person to respond to a text message, a vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour could cover the length of a football field while a driver is not looking.
Regardless, the general consensus is clear that it is best for drivers to put away their cell phones while behind the wheel.
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