How Dangerous is Texting and Driving?

It has been well documented that distracted driving, especially distracted driving connected to cell phone use, is a major cause of motor vehicle crashes both among teenagers and adults. In literature assessing the effect of cell phone usage on driving, the risk of an auto accident increases when dialing a cell phone. This may potentially be explained by delayed braking interaction. In comparison, drivers under the influence of alcohol exhibit a more aggressive driving style. These findings suggest that impairments associated with cell phone use while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk (drunk driving).

The New England Journal of Medicine has published the findings of two studies on the effects of distracted driving on car accidents, one examining the effects of distracted driving on teenagers and another examining the effects of distracted driving on adults [1] . To measure the effect of performing secondary tasks on driving, a sample of 42 newly licensed drivers (16.3 to 17.0 years of age) and 109 adults (age 18-72) with more driving experience were used. In both studies, data-recording devices, including four cameras, and a number of vehicle sensors including a GPS, a forward radar, a multi-axis accelerometer, and a machine-vision lane tracker were installed in participants’ cars to assess their behaviors while driving and during a car crash, driving accident, or near-crash. Video and driving performance data were collected continuously. These devices were used to track the road accidents, the number of crashes, and near-crashes where the subjects were at fault.

texting kills

In the first study among teenage drivers, 167 road accidents, crashes, and near-crashes were identified. Among the experienced drivers, 518 crashes and near-crashes among experienced drivers were identified. The risk of a crash or near-crash among novice drivers increased significantly if they were dialing a cell phone, reaching for a cell phone, texting, or eating. Experienced drivers also showed an increased risk for injury.

The effects of driving while using a cell phone are strong enough to compare to the effects of driving drunk [2] . In a study performed at the University of Utah, 40 adults aged 22-34 (25 men, 15 women) were recruited via advertisements in local newspapers. These participants would use a driving simulator designed to imitate driving in daytime driving conditions with good visibility and dry pavement, with stop-and-go traffic.

Three separate sessions were held: one to familiarize participants with the vehicle, one to measure their behavior under the influence of alcohol, and one while conversing on a cell phone. While conversing on a cell phone, participants were more likely to be involved in rear-end collisions, and their initial reaction to vehicles braking in front of them was slowed down by 9 percent. Compared with baseline, those talking on a cell phone took 19 percent longer to recover speed lost during braking. When participants were intoxicated, drivers exhibited a more aggressive driving style, braking with 23% more force and following closer to the vehicles in front of them. Although these findings are different reactions to different stimuli, they suggest that the effects of driving while texting are just as severe as driving under the influence.

Text Messaging on Driver Performance

The Transport Research Laboratory has measured the effect of text messaging on driver performance on a young driver (teen or teenager) aged 17-25 [3] . Seventeen participants (8 male, 9 female) were used. The participants used a driving simulator in which the participant was required to follow a lead vehicle at a safe distance. In one drive, participants were required to complete text messaging tasks following verbal instructions (read a message; compose and send a text message to a contact; ignore an incoming message), and in another, they performed the same simulation without any distractions.

Driver performance was measured through reaction times, car following ability, lane control, and driver speed. Writing text messages created a significantly greater impairment than reading text messages. The slowest average reaction time for drivers who were texting increased from 1.2 to 1.6 seconds. In addition, drivers tended to reduce their speed while texting, suggesting an awareness that the drivers were impaired while texting. The impairment caused by texting was also more significant in female drivers rather than male drivers. Reading text messages was less detrimental, but was detrimental, nevertheless. Ignored text messages appeared to have a negligible effect on performance.

These findings were compared to prior studies measuring the influence of cannabis and alcohol on driving [4] . Reaction time impairment caused by texting while driving was apparently greater than that caused by alcohol consumption to the legal limit for driving (drunk driving) but less detrimental than using a mobile phone for handheld conversations. Drivers who texted (distracted driving) also drove at lower speeds, but not as slowly as those under the influence of cannabis.

Texting Kills

Although the research is clear, distracted driving continues to be a pervasive problem and texting kills approximately 9 people and injures over 1,000 more each day. Distracted driving laws and law enforcement are not enough to stop a distracted driving accident. If you or a loved one have been in a car accident or have been injured by a distracted driver, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Motor vehicle accidents are complicated matters, and you need an experienced personal injury law firm to fight for your rights. For a free consultation, call Accident Law Group today at (602) 262-4254.


[1] Sheila G. Klauer; Feng Guo; Bruce G. Simons-Morton; Marie Claude Ouimet, Suzanne E. Lee, Thomas A. Dingus, Distracted Driving and Risk of Road Crashes among Novice and Experienced Drivers,

[2] David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, Dennis J. Crouch, A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. (2006).


[4]  See, e.g., B.F. Sexton, R.j. Tunbridge, and A Board (TRL Limited), P.G. Jackson, K. Wright, M.M. Stark, K. Englehart, The influence of cannabis and alcohol on driving