Pseudo-Scientific Real World Testing: Is It Safer to Drive Drunk or On the Phone?

Alex Castle

With the recent hullaballoo over the dangers of talking on the the phone while driving, we couldn't help but be reminded of a real-world experiment our sister publication Mobile ran way back  in February 2005 about the very same issue. Using noted drinker Roger Hibbert as a guinea pig, they headed for the hallowed grounds of our local Malibu Grand Prix, carrying a phone, a stopwatch, a Breathalyzer, and bottle of 100-proof Absolut. Our goal: To find out if our subject could stay on the road while besotted or blathering. Our results will shock you to your very soul. Naturally, the tests are completely un-scientific, but it's a funny read, and the results are sobering (a-ha!) so we thought we'd repost it here for your consideration. Enjoy!

Is the cell phone really worse than the bottle? We drink and drive so that you don’t have to!

Fancy-pants scientists may say that cell phones may be worse than a nip of hooch when it comes to driving, so we did a quasiscientific and questionably legal experiment of our own to see just how seriously these twin menaces — cell phones and vodka — can affect driving ability.

Using noted drinker Roger Hibbert as a guinea pig, we headed for the hallowed grounds of our local Malibu Grand Prix, carrying a phone, a stopwatch, a Breathalyzer, and bottle of 100-proof Absolut. Our goal: To find out if our subject could stay on the road while besotted or blathering. Our results will shock you to your very soul.

TRIAL 1

Net alcohol consumption: Nil
Other encumbrances: Nil
BAC*: 0.00 percent
Average lap time: 1:05
General observations: Subject is having a good time, really enjoys competing with self and other Mobile PC staff members to improve time. Subject indeed experiencing “great family fun” as promised by Malibu Grand Prix (MGP) signage.

TRIAL 2

Net alcohol consumption: Nil
Other encumbrances: cell phone
BAC: 0.00 percent
Average lap time: 1:14
General observations: Due to strict helmet regulations at MGP, subject is forced to use speakerphone, which he holds in one hand. Driving is erratic, a little jerky due to one-handed driving, and very, very slow. Subject reports the phone is “very distracting” as he obliviously plows through the grass on the course.

TRIAL 3

Net alcohol consumption: 2 ounces
Other encumbrances: Nil
BAC: 0.01 percent
Average lap time: 1:04
General observations: Subject is driving well
but skidding frequently as he seeks to improve his time; he’s driving faster than during predrinking trials. Otherwise, quality of laps is similar to fully sober quality.

TRIAL 4

Net alcohol consumption: 4 ounces
Other encumbrances: Nil
BAC:
0.05 percent
Average lap time: 1:05
General observations: Mobile PC photographer Samantha Berg notes that she would have passed out after four shots, but subject is going strong. “I’m feeling it a bit,” reports subject, as he spills some on himself. Car is fishtailing and nearly stalls once, but speed is still consistent. Driving quality is clearly on the downswing.

Want to know what happens when you drive a go kart after taking 12 shots? Read on!

TRIAL 5

Net alcohol consumption: 6 ounces
Other encumbrances: Nil
BAC: 0.10 percent
Average lap time: 1:06
General observations: Subject is now legally drunk in California and is slowing slightly. Seems unsure on straightaways and hits his first cone. Car is fishtailing wildly. Subject’s time is beaten by the girl who follows him. This generates severe anger in the subject, which is manifest by an argument with a snack machine.

TRIAL 6

Net alcohol consumption: 8 ounces
Other encumbrances: Nil
BAC: 0.12 percent
Average lap time: 0:59
General observations: In an effort to best the times of the girl (see trial 5), subject has thrown caution to the wind. Subject is now running over cones — before he even leaves the pit area. Car jerks wildly over the course, but subject is achieving record times.

TRIAL 7

Net alcohol consumption: 10 ounces
Other encumbrances: Nil
BAC: above 0.12 percent
Average lap time: 1:05
General observations: Subject has drunk enough vodka to kill Rasputin. Subject has now left the car and is chatting with the girl from trial 5 about our secret experiment that he’s not supposed to be talking about. Girl’s boyfriend appears unamused. Very surly subject is finally wrestled back into a car, but sits at the starting gate for nearly five seconds after green light is given. Still makes good time, considering reactions are now pathetically slow. Vaguely drooling, subject now appears to be running down cones on purpose and with a perverse glee.

TRIAL 8

Net alcohol consumption: 12 ounces
Other encumbrances: Cell phone headset
BAC: above 0.12 percent
Average lap time: 1:05
General observations: Out of curiosity, severely drunken subject is outfitted with a hands-free headset. Subject continues to skid and hit cones, but not as many as in previous trials. Subject reports that talking on phone helps him concentrate, considering the severity of his condition. After final lap, subject verbally threatens team after vodka runs out and demands to be “taken immediately to an IHOP,” ending the experiment.

LESSONS LEARNED

While we analyze the data thoroughly, some lessons and observations are obviously clear:
•    Talking on a cell phone doesn’t just make you a bad driver, it makes you slow, too. If you just shut up and drive, you’ll have more time to call when you get to the office.
•     Your $20 all-you-can-race fee includes unlimited bumper boats.
•     Driving go-carts uses muscles you didn’t know you had.
•     Cheap two-stroke fuel will mask the smell of alcohol completely.
•     A 6-foot-4 editor in chief is simply not built for these stupid little cars.
•     Final words from the subject: “Talking on the phone sucks. Driving drunk on a closed course is totally fun!”

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