Report: Texting Behind the Wheel More Dangerous than Drunk Driving

Posted: June 25, 2009

What's safer, texting a friend while driving, or downing a few beers and getting behind the wheel?  Car and Driver decided to do us all a favor and find out.

"We decided to compare the results of texting to the effects of drunk driving, on the same day and under the exact same conditions," they write. "Not surprisingly, Car and Driver doesn't receive a lot of research grants."

Testing on an airport runway, the magazine mounted a light on the windshield of a Honda Pilot at eye level, in order to simulate the effect of a car in front hitting its brakes.  They asked test drivers to drive at 35 mph, then brake to a stop when the light activated.  They tested the reaction times of two drivers (one age 22, one age 37), unimpaired, to establish a baseline.  "Then we repeated the driving procedure while they read a text message aloud (a series of Caddyshack quotes). This was followed by a trial with the drivers typing the same message they had just received."  Finally, they had the same two drivers drink until they reached a blood-alcohol level of 0.08, then tested their reaction times again.

The results?  The younger man posted an unimpaired reaction time of 0.45 seconds.  Legally drunk, he reacted in 0.46 seconds.  But while writing a text, he managed just 0.52, and while reading a text, 0.57.

The older man "fared much, much worse. While reading a text and driving at 35 mph, his average baseline reaction time of 0.57 second nearly tripled, to 1.44 seconds. While texting, his response time was 1.36 seconds." And in case that doesn't sound like much of a difference, they note, "These figures correspond to an extra 45 and 41 feet, respectively, before hitting the brakes."  When drunk, the man's reaction time was 0.64 seconds. 

Jalopnik has video of the test.

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