A four-year-old Montana State University study found drivers are four times more likely to have an accident if they use a cell phone while driving.

According to another study, drivers using cell phones drive worse than drunks.

Driving requires attention. Using a cell phone is one more distraction they don’t need.

Take a look at the drivers you encounter on any given day on Floyd County roads. How many of them have a cell phone jammed up next to their ear?

As the MSU study found:

Researchers tested 36 drivers aged 18 to 63 in a simulated vehicle and asked the drivers to dial the national 511 highway information system. Drivers then had to follow instructions and punch in numbers to access specific highway information such as road closures or weather-related driving conditions. Meanwhile, the simulator screens in front of the drivers presented unexpected obstacles such as wildlife, farm vehicles or pedestrians on the road.

"Based on the fact that drivers are 3.8 times more likely to get in a car accident when using a cell phone, it is best to dial before driving," said WTI researcher Laura Stanley. "It is preferable that drivers don’t use cell phones while driving, whether on urban or rural roads, because most research shows a higher risk of being involved in an accident. It’s a driver distraction."

She compares the level of distraction to driving while intoxicated.

"One study showed that driving while using a cell phone is like being at .08 blood-alcohol content limit, which is the legal limit in Montana," she said.

"I was surprised at how distracted I was by dialing the cell phone," said study subject, Jeralyn Brodowy of Bozeman. "I was so distracted that I ran into (simulated) deer–a herd of deer actually."

Brodowy said that she owns a cell phone, but after the study, she began limiting use while driving.

The study is no fluke. Too often on Floyd County roads, I have to take evasive action to avoid drivers whose attention was on their cell phone and not their driving. A pickup driver on a cell phone forced me off the road on Harvestwood Wednesday when he came around a curve on the wrong side of the road while talking on a cell phone.  A woman talking on her cell phone drove right through the red light in downtown Floyd on the same day.

Live Science reported this in 2005:

A new study confirms that the reaction time of cell phone users slows dramatically, increasing the risk of accidents and tying up traffic in general, and when young adults use cell phones while driving, they’re as bad as sleepy septuagenarians.

"If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone," said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. "It’s like instantly aging a large number of drivers."

The study is detailed in winter issue of the quarterly journal Human Factors.

Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year, according to the journal’s publisher, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Strayer and his colleagues have been down this road before. In 2001, they found that even hands-free cell phone use distracted drivers. In 2003 they revealed a reason: Drivers look but don’t see, because they’re distracted by the conversation. The scientists also found previously that chatty motorists are less adept than drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding 0.08.

In other words, studies documenting the dangers of using a cell phone while driving are nothing new. Some states have banned the use of wireless phones while driving. Virginia chose to limit the ban to just teenaged drivers even though studies show drivers of any age are impaired when it comes to talking while driving.

But why wait for the Commonweath to do something? Why not take a little responsibility on your own. When you’re driving, turn the damn cell phone off or just ignore it if it rings.

That’s what I do.