/ Motoring, Technology

Driven to distraction – the dangers of texting at the wheel

If you were ever in doubt that it wasn’t a good idea to text behind the wheel, we took to a simulator to test mobile-use while driving. You might be surprised by how we got on…

To find out just how dangerous it is to text and drive, myself and two colleagues went along to the Transport Research Lab in Berkshire to have a drive in its simulator.

We drove while using a hands-free mobile phone, a handheld mobile, and also at the legal alcohol limit to compare the level of distraction caused by each.

Calling and texting behind the wheel

I don’t have a hands-free phone kit in my own car, but I was still shocked at just how difficult it was to drive while having a demanding conversation – even with both hands on the wheel.

But that was nothing compared with trying to negotiate a winding road while sending a text on a handheld mobile. I veered off the road two or three times and found it impossible to maintain a constant speed. The fact that my colleague lost control of the car and crashed was all I needed to convince me that I will never pick up my mobile while driving again.

As for driving with alcohol in my system – everyone has different tolerances, but it was pretty scary and I felt too drunk to drive even at the legal alcohol limit. Check out how we got on while driving under each of these circumstances in our video:

Should offenders be educated?

Our conversations with the police, which formed another part of this investigation, drove home that it would be beneficial if regional police forces offered educational courses for offenders.

To me, being shown the potential consequences of breaking the law could be miles more compelling than a fixed-penalty fine. Yet, only 11 of the UK’s forces offer this option – are educational courses for offenders something you’d like to see introduced across the country?

From the difficulty we had driving while texting in our investigation, I also wonder how much handheld mobile-use is contributing to road deaths. Road deaths rose by 3% in 2011 – the first increase in nearly a decade.

So, should mobile-use while driving be a road safety priority? If it was taken as seriously as seatbelts and child car seats have been over the past decades, perhaps all drivers would soon realise they can’t – and should not – get away with calling or texting while driving.

Should mobile-use while driving be a higher road safety priority?

Yes – police should do more to target mobile phone offenders (89%, 412 Votes)

No – police are doing enough to target mobile phone offenders (11%, 53 Votes)

Total Voters: 471

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I don’t text whilst driving. However, I have for the past twenty years driven with a hands free kit. I personally feel that the debate should be about the law. Many people on this board have called for the law to be changed, banning handsfree use of mobiles and I am totally opposed to that. If we go down this route then what is next passengers, audio systems satnav’s. People say its dangerous but given that the number of seriously hurt or killed on our roads is less than 10 000 when there are some 30 million vehicles completing several billion journeys a year the risk of an accident is microscopic. Lets put the risk in some perspective

Bill says:
7 November 2012

As you say, let’s put the risk in persepctive – and let’s get the statistics right while we’re about it.
The DfT reports that 24,870 people were killed or seriously injured in the year ending June 2012, and there were almost 200,000 reported casualties of any severity. Using your figure of 30 million vehicles on the road, and allowing for most accidents involving more than one vehicle, with some of the vehicles carrying more than occupant some of whom would not have been injured, I estimate that the chances of being party to an accident in which some one was seriously hurt or injured are likely to be of the order of 1 in 500, and the chances of being party to an accident involving a casualty of any severity could be more like 1 in 100. Hardly microscopic.

These are figures derived primarily from reports to the police. There are many more accidents that go unreported because of lack of injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if the life-time odds of being involved in just “an accident” (your words) are better than even.

John says:
7 November 2012

I’m back from a few days away &, boy, have I missed this debate between those that are for freedoms & those that will twich their curtains and say ” there ought to be a law you know”.
I was told on my speed awareness course that 2,000 are currently killed – down from 3,000 a few years ago.
Whilst there are twitchers that think texting’s a high risk activity, I’d like to say that I left home on Monday I drove
to London …no crash, no lane wandering
to Newbury …no crash, no lane wandering
to Bristol …no crash, no lane wandering
to Leeds …no crash, no lane wandering
I’m honest & those of you that commit NO sins are welcome to stone me. As for the majority of you, keep your stones in your pockets.
I think driving & texting is for the individual to decide not the dictatorial style of control, control, control, like the USSR or 30s Germany, etc. As Citizen Smith would say, “FREEDOM to the people”.

Bill says:
7 November 2012

Well, saw another one last night. The car overtook me driving down the outside lane of a busy 2-lane section of the M3 in the middle of the evening rush hour. I was intrigued by the way the car then started to slow and literally wobble in the lane. It then cut across me (by then I had fallen back in anticipation of the unexpected) and exited onto a slip road – all without indicators. I happened to be exiting the same slip road and then passed the car. I was not surprised when my passenger observed that the reason the car had been wobbling was because the female driver was steering with just her left hand, and the reason she had not used her indicators was because her right hand was busy holding her mobile phone against her ear. To my mind, that driver conformed to my dictionary’s definition of an idiot as “an utterly foolish or senseless person”.

And how about the near misses that never get reported? They could equally have become accidents. Don’t gamble with peoples lives when it is not necessary – driving is a serious task requiring concentration, not a game. Make it as safe as possible.
Incidentally, it has often crossed my mind – if you were designing a transport system from scratch, would you choose one where vehicles travel without automatic guidance in opposite directions, separated by a few feet, at a closing speed of 120mph, often in the dark and the wet? Seems crazy. Would you then choose it if you knew those guiding the vehicles could take their eyes off the road to read or write something?

tom gray says:
7 November 2012

Following this story with interest and some surprise – not to say horror. I would like to say a word in favour of satnavs however. I resisted buying one but invested eventually for various reasons. It is mounted near right-hand door pillar and is nearer eyeline than speedo and instruments. I would never attempt adjustment on the move – other than switch-off which can be done by touch without taking eyes off road. I only install and use it for longish, unfamiliar journeys, as I am mostly driving solo. There are two aspects that undoubtedly make for safer driving. First, there is advance warning of turns and this reduces uncertainty and distraction at such points when part of the observation capacity is occupied with finding the way – not least roundabouts where there is not much time to sort out direction information. Second, use at night gives some forewarning of the road configuration ahead, beyond the headlight range. IAM driving, which is based on Police methods, emphasises reducing the number of tasks you have to do at the same time by forward planning and Satnav does assist in achieving that aim.

Bill says:
8 November 2012

“Freedom to the people”??? Freedom to be one of those 2000 a year that are killed on the roads? There are plenty of countries in the world, where drivers have the freedom to drive without regard to rules or regulations, but unfortunately those drivers don’t all have John’s immaculate driving skills. The consequences are obvious … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate .

I’m not sure what John’s position is with respect to hand-held mobiles and driving. Does he support the law on that matter? Or does he believe that that too should be unregulated? Does he not notice the erratic behaviour of occasional drivers on the road who are using a hand-held mobile? Or is he perhaps too engaged generally in his own phone conversations to notice?

I think John forgets that he is a sample of ONE and his personal driving experiences say nothing about the behaviour and competence of other drivers on the road, behaviour that I and others see being repeated on the road time and time again. I know I’m not a perfect driver, so I won’t criticise John’s style. But neither will I infer anything about other drivers skills from John’s description of his own skills. I reserve the freedom to argue against all the other drivers on the road (except John, of course) who UNNECESSARILY and AVOIDABLY choose to put MY life and the life of MY family at risk.

As several people have pointed out, texting is not the only distraction. Apparently the government is looking into possible ways of cutting the number of accidents involving young people:

Gerry says:
18 November 2012

Using a handheld mobile phone whilst driving, whether speaking or otherwise, is dangerous. So I support the current law and agree that both the penalties and the level of enforcement are inadequate. I do worry about the lack of reliable data, though, with regard to the number of accidents caused by using a hands-free phone. I have a blue tooth system in my car which is entirely voice activated, although I rarely initiate a call myself as that in particular is slightly distracting. BRAKE want hands-free systems banned, but that should only be done based on reliable empirical evidence – not gut feeling. We all want safer roads, but there are some in this world who would like the Red Flag Act reintroduced.

Finally, if we the public want something really dangerous banned in a car then may I suggest smoking? There can’t be too many things more dangerous than having a lighted incendiary in one hand and the wheel in the other. As an ex-smoker I will never forget the time I dropped a lighted cigarette into my lap whilst completing a complex manoeuvre. A serious accident was only avoided because there was no one else about; had there been another car coming the other way I’d not be here to type this.

Brillo says:
27 November 2012

I would like to add to the discussion that passengers trying to converse with the driver is also a big distraction, so could this also be factored into your results please to put talking on the phone in perspective?

Brillo, agreed talking to a passenger can be distracting – but that doesn’t affect whether you should or should not talk on a phone. Surely this is about eliminating as many distractions as possible?

david harrison says:
1 December 2012

people who phone or text just dont care,the law does not apply to them. it should not be a £60 fine but £600 plus loss of the phone,im sure this would make them think,but i think even this would not stop some, as i have said they just dont care about anybody else.

Brillo says:
3 December 2012

As a driver of advanced years who drives about 20,000 miles a year I personally think we have quite enough laws already to understand and implement without further laws being introduced. The police who succesfuly prosecuted a woman for driving while eating an apple did not need a newly passed law, an existing one covered this, as did for driving while using a phone. The police just need to enforce the laws that are now current. If for example a driver is being distracted by his children misbehaving in the back of his car a new law for this is not needed, if police think the driver is not in complete control of his car he could be prosecuted.This is obviously just one example.

I’m back !
Before sat nav I’d put a map book on the steering wheel. Then I used a sat nav & thought it was super. Now my phone’s got a sat nav & it’s double super for safety – but it does need my fingers sometimes – and my attention when listening.
In reality, tomorrow will be trouble free because the risk is managed & I can make my own mind up.

[This comment has been edited for breaking our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Moderators – Why is John allowed to make comments ENCOURAGING ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES??? Yet mine pointing out that I disliked such activities and the perpetrators was with-drawn – No Wonder I have stopped my subscription!!!!! Withdraw his comments immediately.

Good morning Richard ….your objection is noted, but it doesn’t give you a right to prevent my freedom of speech or act. I offer the alternative view on “bandwagon issues” where the twitchers say “there should be a law about that”.
The government’s current policy on restriction of the populous is “the red tape challenge” & it’s all about removing silly billy laws & regultions. So why would they introduce another ?
My actions & view is nothing new to this forum but I do like to come in like a troll & offer alternatives. Your views & decisions aren’t always going to be right Richard – there are others equally as right as you & you might not agree with them. Many don’t agree with me !
I don’t want another law when it removes an individual’s responsibility to make good decisions & something more for the police to enforce when they can’t enforce what they’ve already got.

Hello John, although using a phone as a sat nav is not necessarily against the law, the way you are going about commenting is against our commenting guidelines. You are purposely provoking members of the community into a desired emotional response, or ‘trolling’. We are also against the promoting of illegal activities, such as texting and driving. However, there is room for debating the issue as long as you are not suggesting other people do the same.

Richard, please use the ‘report this comment’ button to alert us to issues. Thanks.

Guidance noted, Patrick

“The risk is managed” is a meaningless statement. I don’t want anybody “managing” a risk to my life and that of my family when they could eliminate that risk completely.

“Marvyn Richmond, 49, was so engrossed in a conversation with his mother that he failed to notice traffic ahead of him had come to a standstill, and ploughed into the back of the queue, killing Michael Buston, a passenger in a van”. Just like you, he found the conversation needed his attention at times…

“Michael Leach, 29, was jailed for four years at Exeter Crown Court for a similar offence”.

“Roger Murray, a 37-year-old lorry driver, was jailed for 18 months in Ayr for causing a fatal crash while on his hands-free phone”

Most recently, a woman who had stopped to compose a text message, and then “only used one finger to push the send button” after she had set off again, succeeded in killing a pedestrian. Just like you, she needed to use her fingers sometimes (in fact, just once) …

I’m sure they all thought they were “managing the risk” as well. Unfiortunately, the risk was to other people who paid the price. In the light of the tragedies that those drivers caused, I must admit I find your comments rather offensive.

Patrick – You did not act before – you simply withdrew my remarks – Equality of treatment needs to be seen to be done. I object to your bias – Which is why I have stopped my subscription.

Hello Richard, I’m very sorry to hear that. If your remarks were removed it was because we had removed comments from John and thus your replies – this was then followed by a warning to not make things personal.

As Claire explains we are completely against texting and driving – however, I don’t want to overly moderate as it would turn into us censoring the debate. Since the debate is about texting and driving, there are going to be disagreements. I’m trying to be firm and I would hope that your comments in reply were enough to balance the debate. However, John has noted my moderation and I hope everyone will take note of it going forward. Thanks, Patrick

Patrick / Richard, John has been winding people up ever since this conversation began . I would have thought that by now this conversation has run its course?

John Rayner says:
20 December 2012

Hi Malcolm …you’re not wrong. I’m surprised you’re the only one to realise. Enjoy Christmas everyone & I hope Santa brings you all a super dooper smartphone !

carl barber says:
8 June 2014

I witnessed a driver using a mobile phone whilst being given a lift home by the police, this after i was arrested for trimming back a conifer that was overhanging my property and blocking access to my personal post box situated at the bottom of my driveway. The officer pulled the vehicle concerned over and told the driver it was extremely dangerous, without issuing a fixed penalty. This person was travelling at 50-60mph and could have easily caused an accident but went unpunished. The poilce have informed me that it is officers discretion if a ticket is issued. This strange when it is illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving.

I turn my phone OFF while driving, so needless to say I won’t be texting. I live in a fairly rural area and I have had too amny close calls with people talking on their cell phones, let alone texting. Now manufacturers are putting in touch screens into cars. Another distraction. I wonder how many accidents will be caused by these.

What I find incredible about this whole debate is that the huge touchscreens, that seem to be becoming the norm in new cars, are able to be operated whilst the car is in motion.
I bought a new Skoda Octavia (my third) just over a year ago, complete with a built-in satnav touchscreen. Not a problem since I can set up a route before driving off. However, to my amazement, several of the normal in-car controls, previously operated by buttons or knobs, had found their way into computer lurking behind the touchscreen.
For example, if I want to dim the dashboard and touchscreen illumation when driving as darkness falls, then I need do this: Press “Car” (that’s a button) to bring up the correct screen, then hit “Settings” (somewhere along the foot of the screen), next page – find and tap “Lights” (3rd row down), next page – scroll down to the second screen page, then tap – “Instruments/Switch Lighting”, next page – fiddle with the +/- symbols or drag a little green bar across the screen. All this while trying not to kill someone or drive off the road.
Can I please have back the little, knurled roller low down on the right-hand side of the dash, which I could find and operate with one hand without taking my eyes off the road.

Another of the built in distractions that are taking over all cars .Being distracted is a major cause of road “accidents ” .Concentrating on listening to the radio also takes you concentration away from doing what you should be doing Distractions in cars no wonder the accident rate is going up and up Cars and roads are safer and tested but drivers ???