Smartphones more dangerous than alcohol or cannabis: IAM and TRL

12.37 | 1 March 2012 | | 2 comments

Using a smartphone for social networking while driving is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol or cannabis, according to research published today (2/03/12) by the IAM.

Despite the risk, 8% of all drivers – and 24% of 17-24 year old drivers – admit to using a smartphone for email and social networking while driving.

To carry out the research, the IAM and TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) used ‘DigiCar’ – TRL’s car driving simulator – to examine the effect that using a smartphone to access facebook has on a young driver.

The study found that participants’ reaction times slowed by around 38% when sending and receiving facebook messages. In addition they often missed key events, were unable to maintain a central lane position (resulting in an increased number of unintentional lane departures) and were unable to respond quickly to the car in front gradually changing speed.

According to the IAM, when comparing these new results to previous studies, the level of impairment on driving is greater than the effects of drinking, cannabis and texting.

The IAM is calling for Government action to highlight the dangers of using smartphones behind the wheel, and believes that phone manufacturers and social network providers also have a key role to play in spreading the message.

Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “This research shows how incredibly dangerous using smartphones while driving is, yet unbelievably it is a relatively common practice. 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.”

Nick Reed, TRL senior researcher, said: “Our research clearly demonstrates that driver behaviour was significantly and dramatically impaired when a smartphone was being used for social networking. Drivers spent more time looking at their phone than the road ahead when trying to send messages, rendering the driver blind to emerging hazards and the developing traffic situation.

“Even when hazards were detected, the driver’s ability to respond was slowed. The combination of observed impairments to driving will cause a substantial increase in the risk of a collision that may affect not only the driver but also their passengers and other road users. Smartphones are incredibly useful and convenient tools when used appropriately and responsibly. Their use for social networking when driving is neither."

Click here to read the report.

For more information contact the IAM Press Office on 020 8996 9777.


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    Whilst I don’t condone the use of smartphones or any mobile phones during driving, when are the powers that be going to switch their crusade from mobile phones users to sat-nav users?

    Surely the use of sat-nav systems whilst driving, especially by professional drivers such as private hire drivers, is as dangerous as a drivers using a mobile phone, yet nothing is being done to outlaw this device.

    Nick Borras, Leeds
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    This research validates RoadDriver’s opposition to in-car entertainment telematics such as Mbrace2, which endeavours to legitimise social networking while driving.

    Charles Dunn
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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