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Can Texting Accidents Overshadow Drunk Driving Accidents?

According to a UK research study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and the RAC Foundation, texting is as deadly as drunk driving, and the startling results are just as applicable in the US as in the UK. The study had 17-24 year old drivers read, write, and ignore text messages while driving a driving simulator. Researchers concluded that the response times of test subjects decreased by 35% when distracted by a cell phone or mobile device. In comparison, response times decreased 12% when test subjects were drinking to the legal level allowed for their blood alcohol limit. Test subjects who were driving under the influence of marijuana had response times slowed 21%
The study found that distracted driving affected more than just response times. Test subjects distracted by a mobile device also had steering control reduced by 91%. As a result, many test subjects had trouble remaining in their lane while texting. Researchers also found that drivers distracted by texting followed too close behind the car in front of them, further increasing the risk of an accident.
Interestingly, all the test subjects in the study believed that they could text quickly and effectively, even while driving. All were experienced with texting. Despite this, it took them three times longer to compose and send a text message while driving. Researchers found that texters who think they are distracted for only a few seconds while driving in fact underestimate the amount of time it takes them to compose a text message on the road. In fact, researchers found that drivers sending just one text message were distracted for over half a mile or one full mile on the highway.

If this study is worrying on its own, research in the US is even more troubling. Accroding to US researchers, teens often text while driving, even though they know it is dangerous. Most teens polled also admit to breaking current text bans while driving and claim they would continue texting and driving, even if federal legislation makes it illegal to text message while driving in any state. Many teens claim that they are too dependent on text messaging to give it up, even while driving.

Police agencies also note that catching people who are texting while driving is difficult. The California Highway Patrol, for example, has issued 163,000 tickets since 2008 to people who are talking on cell phones while driving. However, only 1,400 texting tickets have been issued. Considering there are 23 million drivers in the state, this means that many people are texting, driving – and getting away with it. Police note that cell phones are easier to spot since drivers hold the devices up to their ears. Drivers often hold devices behind the dash or on their laps when texting, making texting drivers hard to spot. Currently, 20 states ban texting and driving. Nine states ban texting and driving only for young drivers.

No experts claim that text messaging while driving is not dangerous. However, getting drivers to listen is another matter. Police agencies believe that passing new laws alone won’t help. Like many experts, they believe that a change of perspective needs to happen. Drivers need to start seeing texting as dangerous and socially unacceptable.