Studies Find Using a Cell Phone While Driving Is as Dangerous as Drunk Driving

Many drivers who would never dream of drinking and driving regularly pull out their mobile phones when behind the wheel. Several studies over the years have found that people using a cell phone—even a hands-free device—were just as likely to perform poorly in a driving test as drunk drivers. In some cases, our Indianapolis auto accident lawyer explains, cell phone users performed worse than drunk drivers.

What Researchers Have Found About Distracted Driving

The benchmark study came from the University of Utah in 2006. Researchers found that using a cell phone while driving has an effect on one's driving abilities comparable to driving under the influence of alcohol. Evaluating the performance of 40 test subjects in a "PatrolSim," researchers determined Driver Looking Down at a Cell Phone While Drivingthat motorists who use a mobile phone while driving are as dangerous as drunken drivers.

In this study, each test subject operated the simulator four times, once without distraction, once while using a hand-held mobile phone, once using a hands-free mobile phone, and once with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08—a common standard for impairment. The study found that drivers using a handheld or hands-free mobile device (the difference was negligible) during the 15-minute simulation did the following:

  • Drove slightly slower than when undistracted and were 9 percent slower in applying the brake pedal.
  • Varied their following distance 24 percent more.
  • Were 19 percent slower in resuming normal speed after a slow-down.
  • Were more likely to crash, three of them even rear-ended the simulation pace car.

By contrast, drivers with alcohol in their systems drove even slower than those who were distracted, but followed more closely, were more likely to hit the brakes within four seconds of impact, and depressed the brake pedal 23 percent harder.

In short, those who believe they can safely operate a vehicle while talking on the phone are wrong. These drivers are 5.36 times more likely to crash than undistracted drivers.

The results of this study have been replicated several times since 2006, most notably by Touro University in 2013, which found that hands-free cell phone users actually performed worse than drunk drivers on a driving simulator.

Cell Phone Use While Driving Must Stop

Clearly, those who talk on the phone or are distracted in other ways while driving not only endanger themselves, but their passengers, fellow drivers, pedestrians, and others. Their actions could cause traumatic injury and even death for innocent bystanders who happen to be in their path.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller
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