DRIVERS who use Facebook on smartphones while behind the wheel are a greater danger to road safety than drink or drug driving, experts have claimed.
Research from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) found using social media on a smartphone slowed reaction times more than alcohol, cannabis and texting.
The charity is now calling for a campaign to tackle ‘antisocial networking’ while driving, as it may be seven times more harmful than drink driving.
Another study found 8% of drivers admitted to using their smartphones for driving, the equivalent of 3.5 million licence holders.
Simon Best, chief executive if IAM, said: “This research shows how incredibly dangerous using smartphones while driving is, yet unbelievable it is a relatively common practice.
“If you’re taking your hand off the wheel to use the phone, reading the phone display and thinking about your messages, you’re not concentrating on driving.
“It’s antisocial networking: it’s more dangerous than drink-driving and it must become just as socially unacceptable.”
Recent campaigns have sought to highlight the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs.
Mr Best called for driving while using smartphones to become as unacceptable as driving without a seatbelt.
The research was carried out in a driving simulator, and participants who were sending and receiving Facebook messages saw their reaction times slowed by 38% and missed key events.
Being over the legal limit for alcohol, 80mg per 100ml of blood, slowed reaction times by between 6% and 15%.
The alcohol-drinking study participants were over the limit but not over 100mg per 100ml of blood.
Drivers who were under the influence of cannabis saw their reaction times slowed by 21%.
Nick Reed, a senior researcher at Transport Research Laboratory, who conducted the research with IAM, said: “Drivers spent more time looking at their phone than the road when trying to send messages, rendering the driver blind to emerging hazards and the developing traffic situation.
“Even when hazards were detected, the driver’s ability to respond was slowed. The combination of observed impairments to driving will cause a substantial increase in the risk of a collision that may affect not only the driver but also their passengers and other road users.”
The study ties in with research from the RAC last year, which found almost a quarter of 17 to 24-year-olds admitted to using smartphones.
But the Association of British Drivers, which campaigns against speed restrictions, warned against being over-zealous in banning smartphones while at the wheel.
Many drivers use them as a replacement for satnavs, they said.