The test drivers were Auto Express consumer editor Joe Finnerty and British GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick, who at just 18 is the perfect example of the demographic most at risk from distracted driving. Each was strapped in turn into a professional racing simulator at Base Performance Simulators in Banbury and tasked with completing timed laps, as well as emergency braking to a stop at a specific point.
Then they repeated the tasks while at the same time busy with the most common distractions – making a phone call using a hands-free cellphone kit, sending an SMS, entering a destination on the satnav, drinking, eating and talking to a passenger.
The results were a nasty shock, said IAM RoadSmart’s head of technical policy, Tim Shallcross, who was there to monitor the findings. Programming the satnav was the worst, followed by sending an SMS, he found.
“Those warning screens about not entering details on the move are there for a reason,” he said. “Joe was significantly slower and even ultra-focused Jamie completely missed the stop line.”
On texting Shallcross said: “Joe would have been a menace to other road users; the car was more or less out of control. Jamie’s caution reduced the distraction in critical zones, but a sudden incident would have left her unable to take avoiding action.”
The least distracting task, for lap times, was talking to a passenger, but it still messed up the braking test for a both drivers, both of whom failed to brake accurately at the target line.
“Their ability to drive normally confirms the difference between the extra distraction of a phone conversation and the natural act of talking to a passenger,” Shallcross pointed out, “but it still shows that any distraction can be critical in an emergency.”
Do you still think it’s acceptable to talk on the phone, fiddle with your sound system or satnav, or send an SMS while driving? Watch the first of the two videos below, featuring former McLaren test driver Darren Turner, and think again.