New research has graphically revealed the dangers of texting behind the wheel.
It found that the effects of writing, reading and ignoring text messages impairs driving skills more than being drunk or ‘high’ on drugs.
Despite the dangers, 48% of UK drivers aged 18 to 24 admit to texting whilst driving.
The first UK research into the effects of texting while driving, which was carried out for the RAC Foundation by TRL, used a driving simulator to look at the effects of writing, reading or ignoring text messages on the driving skills of 17 to 24-year-old motorists.
In all key measures of driving performance, the motorists who were texting while driving were badly affected.
It found that their reaction times deteriorated by 35%. This was worse than alcohol at the legal limit and driving under the influence of cannabis.
The research also found that drivers drifted out of their lane more often and their ability to maintain a safe following distance fell.
Steering control was 91% worse, compared to 35% worse when under the influence of cannabis.
Fleets are advised to ban the use of mobile communication devices such as phones and PDAs, whether hands-free or not, while a driver is behind the wheel.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "The participants in this study were almost unanimous in their view that drink driving was the most dangerous action on the road.
"Yet this research clearly shows that a motorist who is texting is significantly more impaired than a motorist at the legal limit for alcohol.
"No responsible motorist would drink and drive.
"We need to ensure that text devotees understand that texting is one of the most hazardous things that can be done while in charge of a motor car."
Comparing the level of distraction caused by texting to previous TRL studies into the impairment effects of drugs, alcohol (at the legal limit) and speaking on a mobile, the report concludes that texting had the greatest impact on lane positioning; and the second greatest impact on reaction times, second only to using a hand-held phone, making texting while driving more risky than driving while on drugs or under the influence of alcohol.
If a driver is involved in an incident or a crash while texting on a phone, the Crown Prosecution Service has said that a charge of dangerous driving will be its starting point.
Dr Nick Reed, Senior Human Factors Researcher at TRL, said: "This research demonstrates how dangerous it is to drive and text.
"When texting, drivers are distracted by taking their hand off the wheel to use their phone, by trying to read small text on the phone display, and by thinking about how to write their message.
"This combination of factors resulted in the impairments to reaction time and vehicle control that place the driver at a greater risk than having consumed alcohol to the legal limit for driving."