Drunk Driving Safer Than Texting While DrivingS

One of us is a text-messager-aholic, constantly fighting the urge to text (or tweet) while driving. The boys from CarandDriver spent time determining just how bad it really is versus, say, drunk driving. Turns out drunk driving's safer. Here's why.

Former Jalopnik contributor Mike Austin wired a Racelogic VBOX III data logger C&D's long-term Honda Pilot, recording vehicle speed via the VBOX's GPS antenna and brake-pedal position and steering angle via the Pilot's OBD II port. He then wired a red light to the windshield to play the role of brake lights from an imaginary car ahead of the Pilot. When the red light lit up, the driver's supposed to hit the brakes.

Each trial, one with C&D young buck Jordan Brown and his trusty iPhone, the other with old man Eddie Alterman and a Samsung Alias (we're assuming he hasn't yet received his Hachette-assigned Blackberry yet), would have the driver respond five times to the light, and the slowest reaction time — the time between activation of the light and driver hitting the brakes — was dropped.hey'd

How'd they fare? Let's let Mike tell us how Jordan Brown fared:

Intern Brown's baseline reaction time at 35 mph of 0.45 second worsened to 0.57 while reading a text, improved to 0.52 while writing a text, and returned almost to the baseline while impaired by alcohol, at 0.46. At 70 mph, his baseline reaction was 0.39 second, while the reading (0.50), texting (0.48), and drinking (0.50) numbers were similar. But the averages don't tell the whole story. Looking at Jordan's slowest reaction time at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet (more than a car length) before hitting the brakes while reading and went 16 feet longer while texting. At 70 mph, a vehicle travels 103 feet every second, and Brown's worst reaction time while reading at that speed put him about 30 feet (31 while typing) farther down the road versus 15 feet while drunk."

And C&D head honcho Eddie Alterman? He fared much worse.

While reading a text and driving at 35 mph, his average baseline reaction time of 0.57 second nearly tripled, to 1.44 seconds. While texting, his response time was 1.36 seconds. These figures correspond to an extra 45 and 41 feet, respectively, before hitting the brakes. His reaction time after drinking averaged 0.64 second and, by comparison, added only seven feet.

The results at 70 mph were similar: Alterman's response time while reading a text was 0.35 second longer than his base performance of 0.56 second, and writing a text added 0.68 second to his reaction time. But his intoxicated number increased only 0.04 second over the base score, to a total of 0.60 second.

So what does this mean — which is worse? It seems to us that if you are young and virile, it's safer to be drunk driving than it is to be texting while driving, simply because you're spending more time looking at the road even if you're inebriated. If, however, you're old n' busted, it's safer to be driven by one of those short community home vans. Also, they shouldn't be texting while driving because it's hard for them to see the little buttons to press. Silly old people — stick to drinking, not texting.

We've got video from this morning's Today Show where Mike and Eddie show Phil LeBeau how to hold a whiskey bottle properly behind the wheel coming shortly. Want to read more — head over to CarandDriver.

UPDATE: Now we've got video from today's Today Show appearance. Watch in amazement as Mike Austin gets, literally, like eight words in edge-wise! But yes, that's right, he did say Phil LeBeau did terrible!