PHILADELPHIA – Drivers who talk on cell phones may be just as dangerous as those who drink, according to a study by University of Utah researchers who monitored 40 men and women on a driving simulator. Also, drivers using hands-free phones were no better than those with the handheld variety, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The findings were recently published in the journal Human Factors. At any given moment during the day, 10 percent of drivers are talking on their wireless devices, according to a 2005 estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And, according to the study results, when using cell phones, drivers had slower reaction times, inconsistent driving, and more accidents. In another recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, other distractions— such as applying makeup and reading — were found to be much more risky. In the Utah study, both cell-phone use and alcohol caused participants to drive more erratically over the simulated 24-mile course, but in different ways, the Inquirer report said. Cell-phone users were involved in more accidents, and they took about 70 milliseconds longer to react when the car on the video screen in front of them hit the brakes — a delay during which a car moving at 55 mph would travel more than five feet on the road. When the drivers were drunk, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08, they followed other cars more closely and braked 23 percent more forcefully. They also had twice as many close calls (defined as stopping less than four seconds away from a collision) as they did when sober, the report said. The participants were given a mixture of vodka and orange juice. Their level of drunkenness (equivalent to four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach for a 170-lb. man) was verified with a monitor. By one key measure, cell-phone users were even worse than drunken drivers. When talking on the phone, the drivers had three accidents, but when they were drunk, they had none. The drivers also had no accidents when they were sober and not using phones. New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York are the only states to ban driving while talking on a handheld cell phone. Washington and some other communities have also banned it, including Conshohocken and West Conshohocken, the report said. A statewide ban just passed the Pennsylvania Senate, but a House bill has not been approved.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials