Cell Phones More Dangerous Than Beer Behind the Wheel?

Written by Bob McClay for KTAR.com

PHOENIX — A study by AEI-Brookings Joint Center shows 1 in 10 drivers on the freeway are talking on their cell phones and actually are more impaired than if they had been on a drinking binge.

The study used a driving simulator to test the effects of cell phone use vs. the effects of driving while intoxicated.

When taking into account driving conditions and other factors, drivers on cell phones were more impaired than those who had been drinking. Using a hands-free device did not make a difference.

“It’s not necessarily the device that distracts the driver,” said AAA Arizona’s Linda Gorman. “It’s the fact that their mind is taken off the task at hand. So, it’s the conversation in that instance that’s distracting them.”

Some states have banned drivers from talking on cell phones, and Gorman said AAA is “open” to that happening in Arizona.

“We would look at any sort of legislation that was proposed to see what was in the best interests of the motorists and also in regards to enforcing,” she said.

Gorman has a theory about why the study found that drunken drivers do better than talking drivers.

“They know that they’ve had alcohol, there’s that understanding that alcohol can impair you,” she said. “While it’s still extremely dangerous, a lot of times those people (drunks) will drive slower. They will try, albeit unsuccessfully, to focus their mind 100 percent on the road.”

Gorman added, “People think nothing of picking up the phone and talking on the phone while they’re driving. So they don’t even know they’re impaired in a sense. They actually think that they’re paying attention.”

Many of the distracted drivers out there could be teenagers. The number of teens with cellphones has jumped dramatically over the past four years, and the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 43 percent of those 16 and 17 said they talk on cell phones while driving, while nearly 25 percent said they text while driving.