Someone using a mobile phone behind the wheel is four more times more likely to crash yet statistics show mobile phone use being a factor in collisions has actually risen every year since 2017. MPs warn that the current regulations make it seem like hands-free driving is safe, whereas they say it has the same risk as actually holding the phone.
Now, MPs from a cross-party group are calling for all hands-free use to be banned and for the current legislation to be reviewed, taking into account new technologies and it being socially acceptable in some circles to decrease use and increase the social stigma around it to try and deter more people.
What’s the case?
Ever since the increase in technology and the percentage of the population that own a mobile phone (94% in 2017, up from 82% in 2005) has also risen drastically.
Alongside that 25% of motorists admit to making a call or texting behind the wheel, with that rising to 39% when doing so while the engine is idling. The annual RAC report on motoring showed no decline from 2017 to 2018, even though a stricter penalty of £200 and six points was introduced.
For someone in their first two years of driving, this would mean an immediate licence removal and they would have to retake their test.
The penalty for using a phone was doubled back in March 2017 but Road Traffic Officer (RTO) numbers have decreased leading to fewer people going to the High Court over such matters. In the cross-party government report, the RAC cited a study that said in the years before 10 years to 2017, the number of full-time road traffic officers in England and Wales fell by almost a third from 3,766 to 2,643. The number of offences for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving that resulted in a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), driver retraining or court action fell by over 30% between 2016 and 2017 and has been falling steadily for the past six years—by more than two thirds since 2011.
In order for a law to be effective, it must be enforced and the above stats show it isn’t at the minute. The previous minister for Road Safety, MP Michael Ellis requested a review into RTOs and how technology may be able to increase their effectiveness.
Near our offices in Aldershot, we have what has been affectionately nicknamed “vulture cameras” along the A3 which can detect eating, mobile phone use and the driver and passenger not wearing seat belts behind the wheel. These could potentially be used across the country to automatically detect such offences.
But what would an outright ban on hands-free use behind the wheel mean for mobile workers such as mobile repair technicians, taxi drivers and others who rely on their cars as their job.
The BBC spoke to Kelvin Hardy who repairs, inspects and maintains incinerators across the country. He said “I use a hands-free phone with voice recognition and I have to have one. I could get a call out to a job and then get another call telling me I’m not needed. Being able to take that call can save a wasted journey. I’m not a big business, it’s only me involved. If you have a secretary taking calls it might be fine, but I don’t have that. [If the ban happened] I’d have to stop every hour on the motorway.”
“For me it’s all about responsibility. You don’t have to take a call. I don’t pick up calls if I’m surrounded by lorries or there’s heavy rain. It’s about not being distracted. I see some horrendous driving on the roads that no one seems to bother about.”
This also comes into play with in-car entertainment systems. Where is the line drawn here as some could argue this is a form of handsfree and therefore should be banned, effectively rendering millions of cars illegal. Does this then also mean all other distractions should be banned? Noisy children, arguing over directions with the passenger, music of any kind, other noises, in fact, could we not ban roads near historical monuments in order to prevent driver distraction?
This does open a can of worms on distracted driving. We as a society have a decreased attention span and are becoming more and more distracted. Could this be the start of an automation switch into cars that are intelligent and reduce the risk of human accident? Or could this be the start of an anti-mobile revolution where people start going back to smaller more basic phones?
Facebook’s user base has declined 15 million since 2017, and people are turning against the ever-connected world. But how far will this go?
What do you think of this ban? Would it affect your work? How far will the distracted driving go? Let us know below