Car makers and tyre manufacturers can do a lot to influence road safety but drivers play an integral part. And a recent high profile court case, where a lorry driver was jailed for 10 years after ploughing into and killing a family of four while fiddling with his mobile phone, shows how lethal a lack of attention can be.
Although there’s an increase in the penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel from a £100 fine to £200 and an increase from three to six penalty points, some are calling for a complete ban. There’s compelling evidence to support this view.
Recent research by the University of Sussex found that phone conversations at the wheel are equally dangerous, whether you’re talking hands free or not. This is because we use the part of the brain that should be scanning the road ahead to visualise what we’re talking about. The result can be reactions to a hazard that are delayed by as much as a second.
One of the authors of the University of Sussex research, Dr Graham Hole, said: “In psychology there are a lot of contradictions. But over the years, research has been done into the effects of mobile phones on drivers in all kinds of different conditions and the results have been amazingly consistent: driver performance is impaired. I would ban the use of phones by drivers altogether. I don’t think their use is compatible with driving.”
Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of road safety charity Brake, added: “We’re living in an age when being constantly connected is the norm; more and more of us have smartphones and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute. While there are enormous business benefits to this technology, it’s also posing dangerous temptations to drivers to divert their concentration away from the critical task at hand, often putting our most vulnerable road users in danger.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) also believes that using a mobile phone, whether hand held or hands free, is dangerous while driving.
In its research, the Department for Transport found that 99 per cent of people thought using a hand-held mobile phone while driving was dangerous. And 96 per cent supported an increase in the punishment. However, when the AA asked drivers about mobile phone use, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they had been distracted or had a near miss or crash because they’d been using their mobile. When the RAC asked a similar question to its members, it found that nearly a third (31 per cent) had used a hand-held phone while at the wheel.
It appears that while driver’s intentions are good, they struggle to honour them in practice. However, banning the use of mobile phones by drivers altogether is easier said than done. For a start, it would require new legislation that mobile phone companies and car manufacturers would have to buy into. And then how do you prevent drivers using their phone but allow their passengers to? It’s a complex debate but there is an answer: self-driving cars.
Automotive consultancy the TRL has done a lot of research into the dangers of mobile phone use at the wheel. TRL academy director Nick Reed concluded: “Self-driving cars are the get-out really. It might be easier to make car look after us, than for us to look after ourselves.”
This article was originally published on www.road-to-zero.com