The study has revealed that dialling a mobile, or using or reaching for an electronic device increased risk of an accident sixfold. Experts used cameras to continuously monitor drivers and truckers for more than six million miles.
It found some spent as long as five seconds looking at their phone as they texted before crashing. At 55mph, this is enough time for a car to cover the length of a football field. Overall, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting – far higher than previous studies had concluded.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in the U.S. also concluded using a headset was not substantially safer than a hand-held device, because answering and dialling still take drivers’ eyes off the road. Voice-activated systems were far less risky, it decided.
An institute spokesman said: “Talking and listening to a cell phone allowed drivers to maintain eyes on the road and were not associated with an increased safety risk to nearly the same degree. These results show conclusively that a real key to significantly improving safety is keeping your eyes on the road.”
The risks of texting applied to all drivers, not just truckers, the researchers said. Last night a spokesman for the road safety charity Brake called for greater action to clamp down on those who use mobiles at the wheel.
Sarah Fatica said: “Brake is not at all surprised by this research and hopes that all drivers will take heed and turn their phones off before getting in a car. “It’s simply not worth risking someone’s life to send a text message.
“We are calling on the Government to invest more funds in road policing so that legislation can be enforced and those drivers who continue to flout the law are caught and punished.” The research follows a study last year which revealed that motorists who write text messages while driving are more dangerous than those who drink or take drugs before getting behind the wheel.
Tests showed that reaction times deteriorated by 35 per cent while sending a text, compared with a 12 per cent drop for drivers at the legal alcohol limit and 21 per cent for those under the influence of cannabis.
At the time, RAC Foundation director Prof Stephen Glaister said: “We need to ensure that text devotees understand that texting is one of the most hazardous things that can be done while in charge of a car.”
Last year waitress Philippa Curtis, 21, was jailed for killing a woman in a car crash after she sent text messages and made calls while driving on a dark dual carriageway. She failed to notice 24-year-old Victoria McBryde, who was waiting in her car for the RAC after one of her tyres burst