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Hum Factors. 2006 Summer;48(2):381-91.

A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver.

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Department of Psychology, 380 South, 1530 East, RM 502, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0251, USA.



The objective of this research was to determine the relative impairment associated with conversing on a cellular telephone while driving.


Epidemiological evidence suggests that the relative risk of being in a traffic accident while using a cell phone is similar to the hazard associated with driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit. The purpose of this research was to provide a direct comparison of the driving performance of a cell phone driver and a drunk driver in a controlled laboratory setting.


We used a high-fidelity driving simulator to compare the performance of cell phone drivers with drivers who were intoxicated from ethanol (i.e., blood alcohol concentration at 0.08% weight/volume).


When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone. By contrast, when drivers were intoxicated from ethanol they exhibited a more aggressive driving style, following closer to the vehicle immediately in front of them and applying more force while braking.


When driving conditions and time on task were controlled for, the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.


This research may help to provide guidance for regulation addressing driver distraction caused by cell phone conversations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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