Cell Phones Make Drivers as Bad as Drunks

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ROAD SAFETY ARTICLE

The National Road Traffic Regulations,2012 and the Revised Highway Code lists the use of phone while driving and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs as traffic offences. The Revised Highway Code, warns drivers against driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or harmful substances because they impair vision, judgement, coordination and slows down reaction. The 2016 National Road Traffic Regulations in section 175(1) notes that,’’ any person, who while driving or attempting to drive or when in charge of a motor vehicle is under the influence of intoxicating drugs or alcohol above the legal limit or to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of such motor vehicle shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction…’’

It further lists the alcohol legal limit for each category of drivers to be;0.002 for young or novice drivers who are drivers who have not held a driver’s license for more than one year notwithstanding the age,0.000 for commercial/commercial drivers and 0.05 for the general population, noting that the permissible blood alcohol level for a driver is 0.5gm per litre or 0.05per cent of Blood Alcohol Concentration(BAC).The regulations allot penalty points of 5points to driving under the influence of alcohol and a penalty point of 4 to use of phone while driving.

The fines for driving under the influence of alcohol and use of phone while driving traffic offences are N5,000 and N4,000 respectively. Penalty points I once wrote, are points allotted to traffic offences and accumulated in a driver’s record. The Revised Highway Code further notes that a driver who accumulates points exceeding (9) shall be warned or have his license suspended or withdrawn. Specifically, it notes that a driver who accumulates 10-14penalty points will be warned, drivers with 15-20penalty points will be suspended while a driver’s license will be withdrawn if the penalty point is 21points and above.

This implies that driving under the influence is seen as a more dangerous traffic offence. I know both traffic infractions are risky and dangerous. Since penalty points are allotted to each traffic offences, a lay man would therefore interpret this provisions to imply that driving under the influence of alcohol is more dangerous than phoning behind the wheels. However recent findings conducted at the University of Utah reveals that the reverse is the case. I am sure most readers will be shocked at this revelation which says that drivers who talk on cell phones while driving are as impaired as drunken drivers with blood-alcohol levels at the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The study contained in a write up by Robert Britt shows that motorists who talk on cell phones while driving are as impaired as drunk drivers. The study he notes involved 40volunteers and the researchers who by participating, gained insight to what makes people think they can drive safely while using a cell phone or when drunk. Their new insight has formed the advocates for laws to curb the growing malaise.

Surprisingly, the findings had some unexpected revelations; while some of the participants crashed in a virtual vehicle while sober and chatting, none of them crashed while drunk. The study at the Utah University supports previous researches which equally revealed the risks of using the phone behind the wheels and also hands free. “We found that people are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit,” said Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

According to previous studies, as many as 2,600 people are killed each year in road traffic crashes involving drivers on cell phones. About 10 percent of drivers own up to using their phones while driving. Meanwhile, a poll conducted in the United States found out that 28percent of cell phone users say they do not drive as safely as they should while talking on the phone.

According to the study, volunteers drove a virtual vehicle four times: once undistracted; once using a handheld cell phone in real conversations; then with a hands-free phone; and finally again after getting tipsy. The volunteers, all self-labeled social drinkers who were used to three to five drinks a week, were paid $10 an hour. The drinks—multiple rounds of vodka and orange juice—were on the house. Blood tests and breathalyzers were used to measure alcohol levels of 0.08 percent—the minimum that defines illegal drunken driving in most U.S. states. Most European countries, recognizing this as quite a level of stupor, have reduced their legal threshold to 0.05.

Some of the participants the study revealed, were visibly out of control, Drew said. “When I saw them walking, I thought, ‘Man, I don’t want to come close to them when they’re driving a car.’” The results were no doubt astonishing; those talking on either handheld or hands-free cell phones drove slightly slower, were 9 percent slower to hit the brakes when necessary, showed 24 percent more variation in following distance, and were 19 percent slower to resume normal speed after braking.

Three study participants rear-ended the virtual pace car while talking. Those who were drunk drove a bit more slowly than both undistracted drivers and drivers using cell phones, yet they drove more aggressively. They followed the pace car more closely, were twice as likely to brake only four seconds before a collision would have occurred, and hit their brakes with 23 percent more force.

Interestingly, nobody crashed while plastered. Notwithanding, the lack of accidents among the study’s drunken drivers was surprising. Since the simulations were done in the morning, the researchers suspect the drivers were well-rested, perhaps contributing to the lack of virtual drunk-driving accidents. Some 80 percent of fatal alcohol-related accidents occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., when drunken drivers tend to be fatigued, the scientists point out. They stress that the results should not be interpreted as an excuse to drink and drive.

“This study does not mean people should start driving drunk,” Drews said. “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.”