Is texting while driving really worse than drunk driving?

Texting While Driving is Worse Than Drunk Driving

A cell phone is held in a vehicle in Berlin, Vt.
A cell phone is held in a vehicle in Berlin, Vt.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot

In 2009, Car and Driver conducted a driving test with their editor-in-chief and an intern to prove or disprove that texting while driving was more dangerous than drunk driving. The first step of their experiment was to test and measure the reaction times of both drivers while driving sober with no distractions, and then while reading and sending text messages on their cell phones. A light mounted to the front windshield simulated a car braking in front of them [source: Austin].

As they read and sent text messages, their response time was measured based on the time it took between when the brake light came on and when the driver applied the brakes at both 35 miles per hour (56.3 kilometers per hour) and at 70 miles per hour (112.7 kilometers per hour) [source: Chang]. Both drivers had a longer response time while reading and sending the text messages when compared to driving without any distractions. After the initial test, both drivers then consumed alcohol and reached the legal driving limit for intoxication in their state. After running the same test again while driving drunk, response times for both drivers were better when the driver was drunk, compared to when they were reading or sending text messages while sober. Car and Driver writers mentioned that the test was performed on a closed airport runway, with no road signs and no turns. Although this test was performed on a closed course, slow response times due to texting could result in serious consequences in real-world driving situations.

Another test conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory in London took it a step further. It found that drivers who texted had slower response times, were more likely to drift in and out of lanes and even drove worse than those who were driving while high on marijuana [source: Nugent]. The study found that reaction times for those who texted while driving were 35 percent worse than when they drove without any distractions at all. When driving while intoxicated, the reaction time was only 12 percent worse than when the driver was sober and driving without any texting distractions [source: Nugent]. The researchers also found that there was a significant decrease in ability to maintain a safe driving distance between vehicles while texting and steering control dropped by 91 percent compared to driving without distraction [source: Nugent]. One of the study's commissioners eventually concluded that texting while driving is one of the most dangerous things a driver could do while behind the wheel of a car.

For more information about how texting while driving is worse than drunk driving, follow the links below.

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  • Austin, Michael. "Texting While Driving: How Dangerous is it?" Car and Driver. June 2009. (June 23, 2010) dangerous_is_it_-feature
  • Chang, Richard S. "Texting is More Dangerous than Drunk Driving." The New York Times. June 25, 2009. (June 20, 2010)
  • Motavalli, Jim. "Study Finds Adult Drivers Are the Worst Text Messaging Offenders." The New York Times. June 24, 2010. (June 24, 2010)
  • Nugent, Helen. "Texting While Driving is More Dangerous Than Drink-Driving." The Sunday Times. Sept. 18, 2008. (June 22, 2010)