Texting while driving is the equivalent of being at twice the legal drink-drive limit, a road safety specialist has warned amid calls for all mobile phone usage to be banned for drivers.
Research by scientists at the University of Sussex this week revealed that drivers using a hands-free phone get just as distracted as those holding a handset. Lead researcher Dr. Graham Hole told the BBC that the law "should be changed to ... make it absolutely clear that any use of a mobile phone while driving is hazardous”.
Speaking to Julia Hartley-Brewer on talkRADIO, Dan Campsall of the pressure group Road Safety Analysis, said: "The risk associated with making a phone call broadly puts you at the same level of impairment as being at the drink-drive limit.
"We know the social stigma attached to drinking and driving, but many of us are behind the wheel at any one time with a similar level of impairment.
"Texting puts you at approximately twice that level of impairment, that’s a significant further degree of risk."
According to the study, which used 20 male and 40 female volunteers in a variety of carefully controlled tests, telephone conversations cause the driver to visualise what they are talking about using the part of the brain also used to interpret what is happening on the road.
"The real issue is not to do with whether your hands are engaged in another activity rather than holding the steering wheel," Campsall said. "The real issue is what’s going on between your ears.
"If you are concentrating on one activity, you can’t give your full attention to something else. It’s all about where your brain is at, rather than where your hands are at.
"Latest research the Department of Transport did last year said that at any one time 1.6 per cent of drivers are making a handheld mobile call.
"When you start to factor in the proportion who are perhaps making a hands-free call at the same time, that’s a significant proportion."