Using a mobile phone at the wheel is never a good idea, and except in some extreme circumstances is also illegal. Between 2013 and 2015 an average of 24 people were annually killed in a car crash where a mobile phone was cited as the main cause.

While the number of people using a phone at the wheel has fallen since 2015, experts are worried that the statistic doesn’t reflect the actual number of those using phones.

Roadside survey

The phone observations were done through a roadside survey conducted over a period of time by the Department for Transport. The survey is done every two years, and there was a 0.5% decrease in mobile phone use noted from the 2015 survey to the 2017 survey.

Observations were made while cars were stationary and when they were moving, in order to properly understand the difference in behaviours.

Over 90 different sites were used in the survey, in different areas and spread far across the country. Some were rural, some suburban, and some were urban. Motorways were not included in the survey as it is impossible to get accurate results from such high-speed roads.

Unpacking the stats

The survey found out loads of statistics about user behaviour, but what does it actually show us about how people use mobile phones, and what tech companies should be doing to help stop the 24 people a year who die because of a driver using their phone.

Overall, 1.1% of drivers were observed using a mobile phone on a weekday. Interestingly, the difference between Scotland and England and Wales was over double, as drivers seen on their phone was 2%, compared to 0.6% in England and Wales.

Motorists between ages 17-29 were the worst offenders with 4% of drivers in that age category caught using a phone at the wheel. However, the gender split for all age groups was fairly minimal with 1.2% of men and 1.1% of women getting caught.

The introduction of the stricter law in March 2017 will have impacted the results, but the DFT clearly states that “this does not imply causation or prove the effectiveness of the policy.”

Real life impact

Using a phone behind the wheel is a choice, and those who do are not only putting themselves at risk, but also everyone around them. The sad death of Carol Boardman in 2016 after a motorbike hit her, was cited due to the rider being distracted by his mobile phone. Similarly, the case of David Shields up in Scotland shows the same. He was playing for his mobile phone for a total of 18 seconds before he crashed into the back of Yvonne Blackman’s car, of which she later died of severe injuries sustained from the crash.

Distracted driving is becoming a real issue, and now with cars implementing more and more tech, are we on the brink of an increase in distracted driving collisions?

Cars are also getting safer and safer, so are we taking our driving less seriously as we know our cars can protect us? Even 20 years ago, cars were a lot less safe, and people were aware and so drove more carefully. Now, our cars protect us more and more, they have special protective elements, from crumple zones to pre-collision sensors and automatic emergency braking.

What needs to change?

Experts are concerned that the reality of these stats isn’t true and that the actual figures are much higher.

Tech companies are working on ways to help stop users behind the wheel, and Apple has their “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode for iOS 11 and up that automatically detects when you are driving and will switch it on. It replies to all texts with an automatic response and keeps the screen off and silent. If you have Bluetooth or a phone interface in the car, it will allow the phone to connect to that, but keeps it silent still.

Android, unless you have a Google Pixel 2 or up, doesn’t automatically have this feature, although the phone does know when you are driving through Google Maps. It is thought that they are rolling out this feature to more phones soon.

There’s a couple of apps you can get for Android that work quite well, depending on your preference. If you want a handsfree experience then you can use Android Auto, which while a bit clunky and slow works very well as a simple interface. It will allow you to automatically reply to texts and can auto-reply to calls with an “I’m driving right now” if you’d like it to. Auto also has your music, maps and calls in a large menu at the bottom of the screen.

If you’d prefer a complete Do Not Disturb experience, then there are plenty of apps out there that offer such a thing, while it’s not compatible with all Android devices, an app called Driving Detective mimics the Apple features for Android.

What do you think of the statistics? Should the law on mobile phones become stricter? Let us know below

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