Driving While Yakking Equals DWI

July 5, 2006

Expect the cell phone industry to go ballistic over this one: University of Utah researchers found that driving while talking on the phone, even while using a “hands-free” device — was as likely to cause an accident as drunk driving.

Using 40 volunteers and a driving simulator, the professors found that the cell phone users varied their speed more frequently than undistracted drivers and were nine percent slower to hit the brakes. The drivers with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level — after drinking vodka and orange juice — drove more slowly than the undistracted drivers and cell phone users, but were more aggressive on the road.

“If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving,” said Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah who worked on the study.

I remember covering this issue a lot for Wired. The problem with a ban is that (no) thanks to small and wireless technology like Bluetooth, it is hard for a police officer to determine if people are talking on the phone or just talking to themselves. Understandably, there would be outrage if a law banned all talking in the car.

Plus, we already have laws against reckless driving. No one gets pulled over for drunk driving, only if the driver swerves on the road or breaks another traffic rule. Still, we should make it an offense like DWI to hold against the drivers in the event there is an accident. Unless they are making an emergency call, cell phone users on the road are pretty obnoxious.