Safety fears over mobile use by car drivers

Researchers have found that talking on the phone when driving significantly reduces their reaction times

Latest research has found that using a mobile phone at the wheel has a significant impact on a car driver's concentration levels and reaction times.

Scientists at the University of Utah found that carrying out a telephone conversation while driving resulted in motorists driving less carefully than normal. The research found that using a mobile was more distracting than listening to music or a book on tape. This was the case even if the driver was using a hands-free mobile set -- suggesting that the distraction is caused by a driver having to concentrate on the phone conversation.

The research is likely to encourage those who are campaigning for a ban on mobile phone by car drivers. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) claimed last month at least 16 people have died in accidents where a motorist was using a mobile phone when driving. It has written to the government urging it to bring in laws banning the use of both handheld and hands-free kit while driving.

RoSPA cited the death of Rebekka Hurd, an 11-year old girl who died five years ago after being struck by a car driven by a man using a mobile -- he was later fined £200 and given three penalty points on his licence. Although police officers could charge someone for "driving without due care and attention" for using a mobile on the move, RoSPA believe that specific laws would help to stamp out the practice.

In the University of Utah study, drivers carried out a series of different tasks while driving, including using a mobile phone, changing radio stations and listening to a recording of a book being read. The researchers found that drivers took considerably longer to react when they had to brake or stop.

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