Modern day cars are fitted with all kinds of gizmos and gadgets that are supposed to make our driving experience more fun and relaxed. Bluetooth lets us connect a mobile phone to the vehicle, allowing us to play music, make telephone calls and even ask Siri for directions, all without taking our eyes off the road. But is it possible that these things are actually just distractions that prevent us from paying attention, which could potentially result in an accident?
Texting and driving has been disallowed since 2003, and 2007 saw the introduction of penalty points for doing so. The law states that is it illegal to use a handheld mobile phone or similar device by handling it manually. However, as long as the phone is connected to a hands-free system, you can use it to make calls and control your music.
Yet, people on UK roads are still using their mobile phone while driving, putting themselves, as well as other drivers, at risk.
There are around 40 million drivers in the UK that are taking to the roads regularly. According to the RAC’s Report on Motoring, just under 10 million of these motorists confess to making or receiving calls on a handheld phone while they’re driving. Of these 10 million drivers, over 50 per cent are aged between 17 and 24.
When it comes to checking texts, social media and emails, around 17 per cent of drivers admitted to doing these while behind the wheel, despite the risk that it could reduce their reaction time.
In 2018, there were around 690 casualties involved in accidents that were predominantly brought about because of mobile phone usage. Although this sounds like a relatively low number (less than 0.001 per cent of UK motorists), all of these car accidents could have been avoided if the phone was put away and the drivers’ full attention was on their surroundings.
Manually using a phone to speak to someone limits your movements - you may not be able to react as quickly because one hand is holding your phone, only leaving you with one to steer or change gear. Therefore, you should look into using a Bluetooth system instead. These allow you to connect your mobile to your car so that you can use your voice to call someone, leaving your hands free to control your vehicle.
Bluetooth could also allow you to send and receive text messages without needing to touch your phone. The sound system in the vehicle is usually able to read your messages to you and a voice-to-text function can be used to reply to the message. This can be a handy tool that allows you to text without needed to look away from the road or take your hands off the wheel.
One of the most common uses for a mobile phone is as a sat nav. Using a maps app, you can input your location before you set off and reach your destination without getting lost.
If you are using a phone with a hands-free system, like the one pictured below, you should ensure that the phone doesn’t block your view of the road or the traffic.
It’s worth noting that, even if you’re making a call on a hands-free device, the police can pull you over if they believe that it’s distracting you and that you aren’t fully in control. For example, if you’re unable to drive in a straight line because you’re focusing on your conversation and not on the road, they do have grounds to prosecute you.
The law states that drivers caught using a handheld device to text or call can receive points on their licence and a fine. However, a loophole has previously allowed drivers that are using a mobile to take photos while driving to walk away without any form of punishment. In 2019, it was announced that a step was being taken to close this loophole so that guilty drivers can be prosecuted accordingly.
The revised legislation, which comes into effect from Spring 2020, will mean that it is also illegal to take photos, browse the internet or scroll through a playlist while behind the wheel. Even if your device is hands-free, you can still be prosecuted for the above actions.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, stated that, “drivers who use a handheld mobile phone are hindering their ability to spot hazards and react in time”. In fact, according to the Government website, you can travel 100 feet in two seconds at 30 miles per hour. This means that, if you’re looking at a mobile phone for two seconds, you could travel 100 feet without looking at the road at all, increasing the risk of an incident.
Nick Lloyd, the Head of Road Safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said that, “drivers who use their phones are up to four times more likely to crash”. He’s pleased that action is being taken to reduce the number of drivers using mobile phones for multiple purposes while driving to make the roads safer.
The law will apply even if you’re queuing in traffic, stopped at lights or supervising a learner driver. You can use your phone if you’re safely parked or you need to call 999 and it’s unsafe to stop. The penalty hasn’t changed and, if you’re caught using your phone for any reason, you can receive up to six penalty points on your licence and a £200 fine. If you passed your driving test in the last two years, you will lose your licence.
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