Consultation process now closed
|The dangers of mobile phone
believes that this is the tip of the iceberg.
The Government began to survey the use of handheld mobile phones in November 2000. At the first survey 1.5% of drivers were using a handheld mobile phone. Since this time there have been three further surveys with the last in April 2002. The last survey observed 2.2% of drivers using a handheld mobile. We're told that the interim surveys confirm a steady increase.
These figures show an annual increase in handheld mobile use of around 32%.
The government claims to have publicized the dangers of mobile phone use, but the publicity has failed to significantly affect the growth of use.
Do we need a new law?
Possible exemptions that have been suggested include:
Should we also ban hands free phones?
This is a very tricky area. The science and the knowledge of risks suggest we must ban because all known data suggests that hands free phoning is equally dangerous. There are real problems though. If we ban hands free equipment we cripple the emergency services and because there's nothing to see it's really very difficult to detect offences. Is road safety served at all by banning hand held phones? Wouldn't we simply be forcing drivers to pay for hands free, which is just as dangerous and far harder to detect?
The government's consultation document thinks that hands free phones involve a "speaker". They don't seem to have considered the superior arrangement which uses a headset.
There's a case here for banning hands free equipment! At least we could see if people were using the phone!
Or we could get smart and require hands
free equipment to turn on the vehicle hazard lights when operated. Or key
the hands free equipment to a speed sensor (as must be done already with
driver visible TV screens)
When is a driver using a phone and driving?
The government proposes that there will
be an offence unless the vehicle is "parked with the engine off".
It seems a shame that it would be illegal to telephone while completely
stationary in a motorway traffic jam. But the problem is that a line must
be drawn to define the difference between "driving" and "not driving".
We feel sure that a better definition could be found.
Are some drivers safe when phoning?
If some drivers are safe when phoning a
ban would be one of those damn "lowest common denominator" laws, where
the most skilled are limited by the abilities of the least able. We think
that's pretty nasty. However, we simply don't know if some drivers are
Would there be any undesirable side effects of a ban?
|Your chance to have your
This has come up now because the government has published a "consultation document". You can download it here and send your comments to the address included to arrive no later than Monday 25th November 2002. Even a few letters will make a difference. If you feel strongly about any of it then you must send in your comments. Don't knee jerk. You will not be voting against phoner drivers. The new law won't work without education and enforcement, and we could educate and enforce without the new law.
|What is it about phones?
Many groups agree that mobile telephones are uniquely distracting to drivers. We've failed to find any research about why (for example) drivers may be more distracted by a telephone conversation than by a conversation with a passenger. On the face of it, a conversation with a passenger would appear to offer equal distractions and some people have assumed that it must be holding the phone itself that makes the difference. The research regarding distraction however found no difference between hand held and hands free devices.
So we are left wondering: "what makes a telephone conversation special?"
Our untested theory is that social conventions make the difference. It is extremely strange during a telephone conversation if the other party goes silent suddenly, and you might immediately drop into "Hello, can you hear me?". There must be conventions that we all use unconsciously to inform each other when it is the other party's turn to speak. We think the extra concentration required for telephoning goes into these subtle extra communications. We're used to it, and we do it unconsciously, but it still takes significant concentration to achieve. It may well be that the type of brain power required to manage a telephone conversation just happens to be similar to the type of brain power required to manage a moving vehicle. Do both at once and they clash.
Here's a personal experience:
We'd be very interested to hear of any other experiences which might help us all to understand what it is that makes a telephone conversation special.
new A SafeSpeed visitor proposed the following:
Using the telephone tends to cause you to visualize the other party, I think it's this visualization process that tends to interfere with driving. Perhaps not all people visualize to the same extent, or in the same way, but I know I'm often picturing the person I'm taking to, and I know something affects my driving.
new Matt Grubb proposed the following:
Coming from an electronics engineer/physics
background I've been conditioned to think along these lines... Compared
to a conversation with a real live car passenger with all the visual cues
that involves, a phone conversation (especially on a mobile with poor quality
reception) has a much lower signal:noise ratio. There's all sorts of hisses
and clicks and silent gaps that the driver's brain has to work a lot harder
to process to make sense of, and the lack of the aforementioned visual
On similar lines, I have no problem driving whilst listening to and following the often lengthy conversations of radio presenters (I'll admit to enjoying Terry Wogan on the way to work each day), but then FM reception in my area is excellent and I don't need to think very hard about it. As soon as I get a big hill between me and the transmitter though, I find the sudden loss of audio quality quite distracting and have to change station or click a CD on.
|Safe Speed says:
We can't see how the proposed law would really solve the problem and it would make some things worse. There's a problem to address and while we're all thinking about it phoner drivers are growing at 32% every year.
Forcing folk to go hands free seems to hide the problem without fixing it. That's our biggest worry.
We also think that the government is responding to public opinion with a knee jerk reaction. The whole thing stinks of "not properly thought out".
We're sending a reply which urges no new
law, and the three main reasons are:
Safe Speed response:
Download our response here (word 97 document)
The main points in our reply are as follows:
We recommend no new law as proposed for the following reasons:
|What side are they on?
Comments on the above are welcome. If there is a demand we will create a comments page or add to the text on this page. We will be delighted to publish all suitable emails including those whose content we disagree with. Email comment.