The erratic driving observed by a police officer which caused him to stop the vehicle for investigation of DUI is often caused by innocent behavior. Driving distractions such as using cell phones, lighting cigarettes, eating food or changing CDs can cause such symptoms of drunk driving as "swerving" or "drifting" — along with the officer's incorrect conclusion that the driver is intoxicated.
The fact is, however, that this distractive behavior can be more dangerous than intoxication.
For years government agencies have warned against the use of cell phones while driving. The National Safety Council and the Transport Research Laboratory (United Kingdom), for example, have used driving simulators to test reaction times and driving performance, and the American Automobile Association has gathered statistics on drivers involved in serious motor vehicle accidents.
A detailed study on the effects of cell phone use on driving was conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, and reported in a paper entitled Fatal Distraction? A Comparison of the Cell-Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver given at the Second International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driving Assessment, Training and Design (July 2003). Using a simulator, the researchers measured how subjects reacted to vehicles braking in front of them.
Results? Drivers conversing on a cell phone were involved in more rear-end collisions, and their reactions were 8% slower relative to normal baseline; it also took them 15% longer to return to normal speed. By contrast, drivers who were legally drunk (at or above .08% blood-alcohol) showed no higher accident rates than normal, nor did they exhibit significant variation from normal baselines for reaction times or return to normal speeds.
The conclusion of the researchers: Drivers on cell phones showed greater impairment, less responsive behavior and more accidents than drunk drivers.
(Thanks to Steve Oberman, Esq., of Knoxville, Tennessee.)