Institute of Advanced Motorists claims smartphones are more dangerous than drink

Reaction times slowed by nearly three times as much, study shows

2 Mar 2012
Smartphones more dangerous than drink

The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has released a report that claims that using smartphones while driving poses a greater risk than drink-driving.

The IAM partnered with the Transport Research Laboratory on the project, which saw a group of young drivers given a smartphone and asked to access social networking site Facebook while behind the wheel of the TRL's DigiCar driving simulator.

As a result of the test, the IAM found that reaction times were slowed by around 38 per cent while key events during the simulation were often missed. Additionally, participants found themselves unable to maintain a central lane position, and were unable to respond as quickly to changes in speed by the car in front.

Previous studies on the effects of drink driving showed a reaction time hit of 12.5 per cent at the legal limit, while cannabis consumption slowed drivers' reactions by 37.4 per cent.

The IAM's figures are remarkably close to a previous study into the effects of sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel, which showed reaction times slowing by 37.4 per cent. Given the similarity between texting and Facebook messaging, this is no real surprise.

What may come as a surprise, however, is the IAM's claim that around 24 per cent of 17-24 year old drivers have admitted to using smartphones for email and social networking services while driving - despite the clearly deleterious effect such use has on safety.

"This research shows how incredibly dangerous using smartphones while driving is, yet unbelievably it is a relatively common practice," explained IAM chief executive Simon Best of the study. "If you're taking your hand off the wheel to use the phone, reading the phone display and thinking about your messages, then you're simply not concentrating on driving. It's antisocial networking and it's more dangerous than drink driving and it must become just as socially unacceptable.

"Young people have grown up with smartphones and using them is part of everyday life. But more work needs to be done by the government and social network providers to show young people that they are risking their lives and the lives of others if they use their smartphones while driving."

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