Richard Westcott tests the effects of 'text-driving' using a simulator
Texting while driving impairs motorists more than being under the influence of drink or drugs, research suggests.
The RAC Foundation found average reaction times slowed by 35% when 17 to 24-year-olds drove in a simulator while writing or reading texts.
Nearly 50% of drivers aged between 18 and 24 texted while driving, it said.
Previous studies had found reactions were 21% slower among those who had taken cannabis and 12% slower among those who had drunk to the legal limit.
The texters also drifted out of lanes more and had poorer steering control.
The overall driving performance was poor among those tested by the Transport Research Laboratory, which also carried out the previous studies, the RAC Foundation said.
Steering control among drivers in the text test was 91% worse, compared with 35% worse for those under the influence of cannabis.
The TRL study followed a poll of 3000 drivers conducted by the RAC Foundation on facebook earlier in 2008.
It found that 48% of 18 to 24-year-olds admitted to texting while driving.
Any use of a mobile phone while driving is totally unacceptable and we will continue to target drivers who do so
Deputy chief constable Adam Briggs Acpo
Dr Nick Reed, senior human factors researcher at TRL, said: "When texting, drivers are distracted by taking their hand off the wheel to use their phone, by trying to read small text on the phone display and by thinking about how to write their message.
"This combination of factors resulted in the impairments to reaction time and vehicle control that place the driver at a greater risk than having consumed alcohol to the legal limit for driving."
Drivers face a £60 fine and three penalty points on their licence for using hand-held mobile phones. In 2006, 164,900 people were issued with fixed penalty notices.
Deputy chief constable Adam Briggs Association, from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said the fact that police had issued nearly 165,000 fixed penalty notices to motorists for using mobile phones in 2006 showed how seriously police took the matter.
He said: " Any use of a mobile phone while driving is totally unacceptable and we will continue to target drivers who do so."
A new offence of causing death by careless driving came into force in August 2008.
Motorists who kill after allowing themselves to lose concentration by avoidable distractions - such as reading a text message, glancing at a map, eating and putting on make up - can be imprisoned for up to five years.
Christine Wickington's 19 year-old son was killed by a motorist who was texting on her mobile phone. She told the BBC there needed to be a campaign aimed specifically at people who texted while driving.
"I think it needs to be on the television more, on adverts, it needs to be up in road signs," she said.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said the participants in the study had been almost unanimous in their view that drink-driving was the most dangerous action on the road.
"Yet this research clearly shows that a motorist who is texting is significantly more impaired than a motorist at the legal limit for alcohol," he said.
"No responsible motorist would drink and drive. We need to ensure that text devotees understand that texting is one of the most hazardous things that can be done while in charge of a motor car."
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