A three-month study conducted by a British car insurer, Direct Line, a couple of years ago tested drivers in Britain in three driving situations — driving when slightly over the legal blood-alcohol limit, talking over a handheld mobile phone, and talking on a handsfree phone.
The results revealed that drivers’ reaction times were one-third slower when talking on the mobile phone than when they were borderline drunk.
Compared to normal driving conditions, drivers who talked on mobile phoneswere unable to keep a constant speed or a safe distance from the motorists ahead.
Those talking on their phones also missed more road signs than the borderline intoxicated and even took half a second longer to react than drivers under normal conditions or those mildly drunk.
Similar tests conducted in the United States and other countries also revealed the same findings and they are not confined to any age g roup.
While the results of the study was not meant to imply that people should drink and drive, it does highlight the danger of driving while using the mobile phone.
To use a mobile phone — whether it is for making and replying calls or even texting messages—the driver needs to take his or her eyes off the road.
And that brief loss of attention is often enough to jeopardise his own safety as well as put others in d a n g e r.
You can sense drivers using a mobile phone while driving from yards away — the vehicle will be abnormally slow, sometimes veering from side to side, so much so that you think the driver is drunk.
When you overtake the vehicle, you will see the driver happily chatting away.
Flashing your headlamps from the rear or honking at them is futile.
At best, your concern will be reciprocated with angry stares or unkind gestures.
Some won’t even notice because they were so deeply engaged in their conversation.
But if you think talking or texting on mobile phones when driving is dangerous, wait until you see what happens as Internet connections become more accessible on all mobile devices and when anyone can go online with just the tap of a button.
You can expect the Internet-savvy and socially connected drivers to Twitter or update their Facebook status while driving, if some have not already done so.
Already, I have spotted some who drive in starts and stops as they switch their attention between the traffic ahead and the movie shown on the miniature LCD screens mounted on their dashboards.
I wonder if the city traffic police have any statistics on accidents caused by those who drive while talking on their phones or the number of summonses that had been issued to those caught using their mobile phones while driving.
It should be interesting to see if the trend is rising in keeping with increasing mobile phone use.
The figures will tell us what we should do to drive home the message that driving and talking, or texting on mobile phones should no go hand in hand.
We see cigarette boxes carrying warnings on the dangers of smoking and there are also frequent advertisements telling us how dangerous it is to drink and drive.
Maybe we need a similar campaign to deter people from using their mobile phones while driving.
Mobile phone makers can sponsor such campaigns as part of their corporate social responsibility.