DENVER -- It’s called DWI. Driving While "Intexticated."
Each year, a million car crashes in the US are caused by texting drivers. Which made us wonder, it is just as dangerous as drinking and driving? So FOX 31 Denver put Colorado drivers to the test – and the findings might surprise you.
Admit it - you've done it. Sneaked a peak at your email, checked a text, even typed a reply, while behind the wheel. You're not alone. On any day, at any given moment, an estimated 660,000 drivers in the u-s are using electronic devices. A killer decision. 3,300 people die from distracted driving every year. Nearly 400,000 others are hurt.
But we tell ourselves, it could be worse. At least we're not drunk behind the wheel. That's so much more dangerous. Or is it?
We put three local drivers behind the wheel to find out. First up, Monika Tittmann, 45, who admits - she's done it.
“I text if I'm running late. I text my husband (to see) if he's gotten to work on time. I just text friends if I'm at a stoplight and I think I have enough time,” Tittmann said.
Also behind the wheel: Erika Nunez, 26, who says she doesn't text all that often.
"But I'm a little guilty of replying to a couple of text messages while driving," she said.
And lastly, Baris Akdis, 37, a Colorado driver with a commercial driver’s license, who also fessed up.
“Everybody does it, I've done it yes,” Akdis said.
Helping us out with the test is Michael Miller, a retired Colorado Highway Patrol trooper, turned driving instructor. He works for the Center for Transportation Safety based in Commerce City. He takes his driving simulator across Colorado, across the country, and even in to Canada to teach thousands of drivers every year how to be more safe, and less distracted, behind the wheel.
This time, he’s conducting our test. First up, Monika. We simulated a rural road, with moderate traffic. And just a few seconds in to her drive, we send her a text. She looks down to unlock her phone and read the text and just seconds later... Crash.
“What do you think,” we asked her.
“I’m dead. I can’t think,” Monika said.
Just like that - she rear ended another vehicle, because her eyes didn't stay on the other cars on the road.
“We don't think about how the other vehicle is going to affect us at that time. They may be texting the same as she was. It may be the same thing,” said Miller.
Next behind the wheel, Erika. Everything's going great. She even gets a text, and safely responds. But she just couldn't resist replying to that follow up text. And this time typing back, and constantly glancing down, sends her careening across the yellow line.
"I'm in the wrong lane," she said.
She fixes it. But not for long. She's constantly glancing back and forth at her phone when... crash.
“Gosh I'm a little scared. I felt like I was drunk right now, and I was horrible,” Nunez said.
She's not drunk though - we'll get to that part in a minute.
But before that, Baris takes his turn behind the wheel. Even for an experienced driver, it doesn't take long before the distraction of a text message sends him plowing into a stopped car.
“By the time you look at it, and the car stops in front of you, you don't have enough time to react of course,” Akdis said.
Now, to see which can be worse: drinking or texting. Only one way to find out. Happy hour for our test subjects. After a couple hours of downing beer and booze, in a safe, controlled environment, it's time for a breathe test. And after we made sure each of our drivers was at or over the legal limit of point oh eight, we put them back behind the wheel.
First up, a clearly tipsy Monika.
“I'm definitely feeling drunk,” she said.
But something happened this time. From the minute she got behind the wheel - we noticed she was hyper attentive. Paying extra close attention to what happened behind the wheel, keeping her eyes on the road.
This time, her leisurely stroll lasted longer than when she was texting and driving. But she still crashed.
Next driver: Erika ... who'd had plenty to drink. But without the distraction of having to pull out her phone to read a message, did much better behind the wheel. She stays within the lines ... for the most part.
"You know what, when I was drinking I felt like I had no distractions but the road, the road was my only distraction. When I was texting, I kept looking down, looking up, looking down; I had a lot of distractions. So I feel like drinking and driving made me more cautious,” Nunez said.
And finally, there's Baris, who rarely ever drinks, and expected bad things behind the wheel. But he's mastered the simulator... he's driving slower, more carefully, paying extra close attention. He lasts twice as long as when he was texting. But his reaction time is slow, and he crashes after three minutes in the simulator.
“Even though I saw him stop, by the time my reaction kicked in it was too late,” Akdis said.
Baris, like the others, appeared to be a better driver when he was drunk. So what's the take away? What does our driving instructor think? Which is more dangerous?
“You know truthfully, they're both equally dangerous,” Miller said. “Texting and driving is probably the biggest danger we face from everybody. I think right now that is our largest challenge and the most dangerous thing we do when you go between texting and DUI right now,” the driving instructor added.
Again, it's not scientific but it is eye opening. And it backs those statistics about the growing dangers of distracted driving. We all know driving under the influence of alcohol can be a killer. But are you really paying attention to how deadly it can be to drive under the influence of your phone?
“Don't do either, don't text and drive and don't drink and drive,” said Tittmann.
It’s important to note, no one is saying it's safe to get behind the wheel drunk. In fact, three times as many people die every year from drunk drivers than distracted ones. But this is a good learning tool - especially for parents talking to their teens about the dangers of texting and driving. See more eye-opening statistics about texting and driving.