August 2016 saw the harrowing wipe-out of an entire family by a negligent HGV driver make headlines across the country, leading to widespread outrage at how the perpetrator in question had been using his mobile phone at the time of the accident. But while it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of public opinion, just how seriously do you adhere to road safety laws when your mobile phone rings?
Although the law clearly states that it is illegal to use a handheld device while driving, the reality is that there are still many who will choose to take risks for the sake of that ‘very important phone call’. Indeed, a police clampdown on driving while using hand-held mobile phones caught nearly 8,000 UK in the space of just one week last year, ostensibly reflecting a widespread disregard of a law intended to protect all.
In this blog, I review what the law has to say about this highly controversial and dangerous issue, and highlight my top tips to ditch the mobile and thus avoid driving into trouble.
What the law says about mobile phone usage on the road
It is illegal to drive any vehicle while using a hand-held mobile phone. It's also illegal to use a hand-held phone when supervising a learner driver or rider. Although using a hands-free phone is legal, it can also be a distraction on the road. Depending upon individual circumstances, drivers could be prosecuted with ‘failing to have proper control of their vehicle’ through the use of their hands-free phone.
If you’re caught using a handheld phone while driving, you’ll get 6 penalty points on your licence and a fine of £200. If you are a professional driver then you could face fines of up to £2,500. Furthermore, HGV and PSV drivers caught using their mobile twice or accruing 12 points on their licence will face the magistrates’ court.
Drivers will also be referred to the Traffic Commissioner and could face a minimum four - week suspension from professional driving. Operator licence holders may also face action from a Traffic Commissioner, if one of their transport employees is caught using a handheld device behind the wheel to speak.
Why it's dangerous to use your mobile phone while driving
Extensive research and numerous studies conducted worldwide have yielded irrefutable evidence to show that using a mobile phone whilst driving is both dangerous and pervasive. In fact, researchers have estimated that 50 minutes’ of chatter a month leads to a five-fold increase in the likelihood of a crash. Below are the three main reasons why it is a danger to both yourself and others to use a mobile phone on the road:
1. It's a physical distraction
In addition to having your eye off the road, with one hand on the wheel it is harder to navigate bends and respond to hazards. For many people, this is the obvious reason why hand-held calls are banned while driving.
2. It's a visual distraction
Texting and driving also appears to be a significant problem. Studies conducted in both simulators and in the real world have shown that drivers on a mobile phone reduce their visual scanning of the road ahead, are more likely to weave within their lane on bends, and are slower to respond to hazards.
3. It's a mental distraction
Even with a hands-free device, conversation requires concentration which could distract you from matters on the road. If the level of difficulty on the road demands a certain amount of driver concentration, but the complexity of the conversation also requires a depth of thought, then both activities will compete for a finite amount of your attention. We cannot attend to everything in the world at the same time, and if we prioritise a conversation over road safety, then we can risk a crash.
How this impacts your driving performance
Drivers who use a mobile phone, whether handheld or hands free:
- Are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them
- Fail to see road signs
- Fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed
- Are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front
- React more slowly and take longer to brake
- Are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic.
Safety measures you should take as a driver
The practice of vocational licence holders using a hand held mobile phone, and especially whilst driving a HGV or PSV, is unacceptable and presents an undue risk to road safety. For this reason, professional drivers have a responsibility to maintain a high standard of driving to ensure the safety of other, more vulnerable road users.
Where possible, it’s recommended that drivers avoid any mobile phone use behind the wheel, keeping their device tucked away to avoid temptation. However, if you absolutely need to make or receive a hands free call, then you must ensure a secure system such as voice activation or bluetooth is in place, allowing you to keep both hands on the wheel. If you need to use your hands free phone for navigation, then it should be securely mounted e.g. in a cradle, and not obscuring your view of the road.
Finally, and most importantly, if you are being encouraged by your employer to use your mobile phone while driving in an unsafe way, then you should raise your safety concerns with your line manager. Above all, remember that a call can wait, and prioritising road safety by avoiding the use of your mobile phone at all costs, could save a life.
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