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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Text-messaging drivers are six times more likely to get into an accident than drivers who do not text, researchers said in a study released on Monday.
The researchers say the study, using simulator vehicles and identical traffic scenarios, also found the risk of texting behind the wheel appeared to be significantly higher than talking on a cell phone while driving, another dangerous distraction.
"When people talk on the phone while driving they are four times more likely to get into an accident. Here we find another ... increase in this risk," said researcher Frank Drews of the University of Utah, citing previous research.
While other studies have shown the dangers of text messaging while driving, Drews in a telephone interview said theirs is the first to examine accidents rather than "close calls."
The study, published in the journal Human Factors, evaluated the driving performance of 20 pairs of self-described experienced text messengers using their own cell phones.
The drivers, aged 19 to 23, were instructed to plan an evening outing in which they had to arrange a number of activities.
"Their task was to drive, single-task driving in the simulator to assess baseline performance," Drews said. "In the next step, they (researchers) had them text message with friends who were in a different room while they were driving."
During the study, there were seven collisions, each caused by different drivers. Six of the crashes (86 percent) happened while drivers were text messaging. Only one accident occurred while the participant was simply driving.
The study found that text messaging drivers were slower to react to vehicles' brake lights ahead of them and were much more likely to drift into other lanes.
"Their response time to the onset of this braking light was delayed by about 20 percent, a significant delay in reaction time," Drews said.
Citing previous studies on the dangers of texting and driving, some U.S. lawmakers have started a push for all 50 states to outlaw texting behind the wheel.
Figures released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this year showed more than 5,800 distracted driving deaths and 515,000 injuries in 2008.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Vicki Allen