Is having a cell phone pressed to your ear while behind the wheel the equivalent of driving while intoxicated? According to a study by University of Utah psychologists, the answer is, unfortunately, yes.
"Just like you put yourself and other people at risk when you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk when you use a cell phone and drive," writes David Strayer, a psychology professor and the study's lead author. "The level of impairment is very similar."
The study, published in the June 29 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, found that drivers talking on cell phones, either handheld or hands-free, are more likely to crash because they are distracted by conversation.
Using a driving simulator under four different conditions: with no distractions, using a handheld cell phone, talking on a hands-free cell phone, and while intoxicated to the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level, 40 participants followed a simulated pace car that braked intermittently.
Researchers found that the drivers on cell phones drove more slowly, braked more slowly and were more likely to crash. In fact, the three participants who collided into the pace car were chatting away. None of the drunken drivers crashed.
"This study does not mean people should start driving drunk," said co-author Frank Drews. "It means that driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as or maybe worse than driving drunk, which is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by society."
Preliminary results from the study were announced three years ago.