Staying Alive: Cell-phone users as dangerous as drunks on the road

Watch out! You are more likely to get hit by a cell-phone user than a drunk driver.

A University of Utah study showed that motorists who talked on either handheld or hands-free phones:

  • drove slightly slower
  • were 9% slower to hit brakes
  • showed 24% more variation in following distance
  • 19% slower to resume normal speed after braking
  • more likely to crash

Watch your back. Three study participants rear-ended the pace car in the study!

Marginal drunks with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level:

  • drove more slowly yet more aggressively than either normal drivers or cell-phone users
  • followed more closely
  • twice as likely to brake 4 seconds before a collision would have occurred
  • hit their brakes with 23% more force
  • accident rates did not differ from normal drivers

The FAA provided $25K for the study and the Utah Highway Patrol provided devices for blood-alcohol measurement.

About 8% of drivers are talking on cell-phones which is much higher than the drunk driver rate. That means you are more likely to be injured by a cell-phone user than a drunk.

“We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent, which is the minimum level that defines illegal drunken driving in most U.S. states,” says study co-author Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology. “If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving.”

A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver
David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, and Dennis J. Crouch
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Summer 2006

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