Is a text message worth the risk?

Picture posed by model to illustrate texting whilst driving
Picture posed by model to illustrate texting whilst driving

Texting while driving resulted in tragic consequences for an innocent motorist, the Evening Telegraph reported last week.

Features editor Joni Ager finds out how sending a text from behind the wheel can be more dangerous than drink driving.

Lorry driver William Galbraith is beginning a five-and-a-half year prison sentence after being found guilty of killing another motorist in a horrific collision on the A45 near Great Doddington in 2010.

Galbraith, from Staffordshire, ploughed into the car of Robert Knight, a local DJ and former landlord of the Nags Head pub in Wollaston, as he was stopped at the side of the dual carriageway.

Other cars had seen Mr Knight’s car and pulled out to avoid him but the HGV driver did not brake or swerve.

When police looked at his phone records, they found he had sent and received text messages in the minutes before the crash.

Sentencing Galbraith, Judge Richard Bray said: “The reason for your inattention can only be because you were not paying attention to the road because of your use of a mobile phone.”

Using a mobile phone behind the wheel is one of the top four causes of road collisions and is one of Northamptonshire Police’s Fatal Four.

More than 1,000 drivers were fined in Northamptonshire for using a phone while driving between January and September last year.

But just how dangerous is texting while driving?

The RAC Foundation carried out a survey of more than 2,000 Facebook users in 2008 which found 45 per cent of UK drivers admit to texting while driving.

It then commissioned a study into the impact on driving skills of texting while driving, which found reaction times were 35 per cent slower when writing a text message.

This compares with earlier studies that showed alcohol consumption to the legal limit caused a 12 per cent increase in reaction times and cannabis slowed reactions by 21 per cent.

The study found that drivers did slow down when texting, suggesting they recognised the danger and attempted to mitigate the risk by driving more slowly.

Women drivers were more liable to drift outside of their lane than men, but also slowed down more than male drivers.

There was little change in driving behaviour observed when drivers were asked to ignore a text message that they received while driving which suggests that, if you can resist the temptation to read a text, there is little harm in leaving your phone switched on.

The road safety charity Brake is calling for a change in the law so any driver caught using a mobile phone gets an automatic driving ban for at least 12 months, which it says would be a real deterrent.

It commissioned its own research into the impact of texting while driving last year, which shows texting makes drivers 23 times more likely to cause a crash.

The amount of time drivers spend with their eyes off the road increases by up to 400 per cent when sending or receiving text messages, drivers drift out of their lane 28 per cent more often and make 140 per cent more incorrect lane changes.

The charity is also calling for road safety to be brought into the National Curriculum so all children are taught about the dangers of using a phone at the wheel.

Julie Townsend, campaigns director for Brake, said: “People who text, use the web or social networking when driving are taking enormous risks with their own and other people’s lives.

“This kind of irresponsible behaviour is illegal and it kills so there should be no excuses.

“We are concerned the increasing uptake of this technology could lead to more crashes and casualties caused by distracted drivers, as is happening in the US.

“It is vital the Government acts now to prevent an upsurge in distracted driving, and it’s vital drivers listen to these warnings and make a pledge to never use their phone when driving.”