While driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs has long been demonized by safety groups and the government, it turns out a much more dangerous vice is lurking on our roads - text messaging.

Research carried out by the UK's Transport Research Laboratory confirms what common sense tells us - that driving while texting is dangerous. Test subjects between the ages of 17-24 had a 35% slower reaction time when text messaging than when paying full attention. Compared to this, alcohol is almost 3 times less dangerous, causing drivers' reactions to slow by just 12% when they were at the legal alcohol limit. Cannabis users experienced a 21% drop in reaction times, also significantly less than text messaging.

The tests were conducted on a driving simulator and found that text messaging severely hampered a number of driving skills on top of reaction time. Steering control while text messaging is 91% worse, compared to 35% when the test subjects were affected by cannabis. On top of this, texters had trouble maintaining proper distances from cars ahead and also found it difficult to keep in their own lanes.

One of the researchers attributed the surprising results to the fact that alcohol and drug users were focusing their full - albeit impaired - attention on the act of driving, while texters were "distracted by taking their hand off the wheel to use their phone, by trying to read small text on the phone display, and by thinking about how to write their message."

While in some jurisdictions police are targeting those using their mobile phones while driving, it is often difficult to see motorists that are texting as the phone is rarely held high above the steering wheel. This makes it difficult for police to enforce mobile phone laws and prevent accidents due to texting.

Text messaging while driving is especially prevalent among young drivers, with a recent poll of 3,000 drivers aged 18-24 revealing that amost half read or send text messages while driving.