Texts worse than drink-driving

Audrey Ward and George Arbuthnott
8 June 2013

The Sunday Times

Tougher penalties for using mobile phones while driving are being considered by the government after research showed that it slowed a driver’s reactions more than drink or drugs.

Robert Goodwill, the road safety minister, said he would take up the issue with the Ministry of Justice after The Sunday Times showed him the results of a study by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

It found that a driver’s reaction times slowed by 46% when he or she was making a call on a hand-held mobile, by 37% when texting while driving and by 27% during hands-free calls.

For those on the drink-drive limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, reaction times were reduced by 13%. For those who had used cannabis it was 21%. Goodwill said: “I will see if we need to change the penalties.”

More than 500 people are killed or seriously injured each year as a result of driver distraction. Penalties for driving while making a call or sending a text message range from three points and a £100 fine to a one-year ban.

Hugh Bladon, treasurer of the Alliance of British Drivers, said it was “such a stupid thing to do”.

Nick Freeman, the lawyer nicknamed Mr Loophole for winning acquittals on motoring offences, said: “Impose a one-year ban and you’ll get rid of it … can you imagine being off the road for a year, just because you sent a quick text? Forget it.”

An RAC poll found that half of drivers aged 18 to 24 texted while driving. A TRL study found the use of mobile phones by drivers in Surrey had more than doubled from 2009 to 2.6% in 2012.