15th March 2018

Reflecting on the latest batch of statistics involving the use of mobile phones while driving

March 2017 saw tougher measures introduced in a bid to more swiftly reduce the dangerous habit of using a mobile phone while driving. Anyone caught since that date technically faces a £200 fine and 6 licence penalty points – double the previous sanctions. Do it a second time and disqualification looms large.

How do other European countries compare?

Second only to the Netherlands when looking at the whole of Europe, the UK’s £200 fine is more than double the €100 Euros that police in Germany have the power to enforce. We think this is wholly positive and something for the UK to be proud of as part of its road safety endeavours.

Does being convicted affect insurance?

The AA cites how offending drivers face paying upto 300% more for their car insurance for as long as five years, and some insurers are even refusing to provide cover. As a group that places road safety at the heart of its products and solutions for young drivers, fleets, vehicle manufacturers and others, such consequences are completely fair in our view.

Are the tougher penalties deterring UK drivers?

Speaking around the time of the law change, which we very much welcomed, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was hopeful that “doubling penalties will act as a strong deterrent to motorists tempted to pick up their phone while driving.”

Showing on the one hand that the law change is indeed proving a more effective deterrent, the freshly published findings of research commissioned by a well-known insurance aggregator reveal a 39% reduction in the number of fixed penalty notices police issued in 2017 for using a phone while driving, compared to the previous year.

It’s not that simple, though

On the other hand, figures recently crunched by IAM RoadSmart identify that, despite the UK’s relatively much steeper financial penalties for such careless driver behaviour, they still weren’t enough to deter nigh-on 12,000 UK drivers being prosecuted in 2017.

Is a reduction in traffic officers partly responsible?

IAM RoadSmart’s CEO Sarah Sillars alludes to a reduced traffic police presence throughout the UK as a possible contributor towards such drivers still choosing to flaunt the law when she commented: “Clearly this is not enough and unless selfish drivers fear that they will be caught, far too many will continue to flout the law.” Compared to 5,327 patrols on the road in 2010, the number had dropped to 3,742 just five years later.

We would add, though, that it’s not uncommon on a typical day to see at least one driver quite blatantly holding a phone to their ear, seemingly nonchalant as to whether a police car might happen to drive past. Additionally, their vehicles are not necessarily very old, begging the question of whether Bluetooth should be fitted as standard to all new cars and vans to enable drivers to converse with both hands on the wheel. Entry-level editions of the VW Up!, Hyundai i20 and FIAT Fiorino van aren’t equipped with Bluetooth as standard, for example.

Does business culture share some blame?

The RAC’s own findings that 49% of larger businesses expect their at-work drivers to answer calls while on the move and 15% of firms admit that phone-related accidents are common amongst their drivers are highly insightful and also concerning.

For starters, the 30% of organisations surveyed who admit they don’t provide legal hands-free kits for their drivers clearly need to start doing so as soon as possible, as such technology is inexpensive. The results also perhaps point to a cultural issue among many UK businesses and other organisations and highlight the need to maintain a balance between road safety and business efficiency.

The irresistible temptation

Capping off the flurry of phone-related headlines in the last week’s automotive news, research from SmartWitness reveals that 21% of 2,000 motorists surveyed admit to checking for, reading and typing SMS messages when driving, while 69% often take a sneaky look at their phones while stuck in stationery or slow-moving traffic.

The firm’s CEO, Paul Singh, believes that “the way to tackle this abuse is to make using your phone at the wheel as socially unacceptable as drink driving”. He stresses that “we all have responsibility to hammer home this point” and urges: “If you know of a driver using a phone or you are a passenger with someone who does this, tell them to stop.”

Speaking up

Writing in the Guardian, Emma Brockes equates holding a phone during driving to lighting up a cigarette in the same vehicle as a baby, or to a driver not fastening his or her seatbelt. Her view that people should speak up when they’re travelling with someone who uses their mobile phone while driving certainly sounds sensible and worth any temporary embarrassment.

Labelled in many circles as a more ominous threat to life than drink-driving, using a phone behind the wheel isn’t likely to diminish any time soon in light of smartphone and social media addiction being widespread. Further and higher education establishments, employers and other groups really do need to amplify the dangers of phone use behind the wheel.

The roles of technology and media

Various smartphone handsets along with cars’ in-built infotainment systems have increasingly enabled text messages to be read out aloud and responses dictated while on the move and although such connected features are arguably better than someone holding their phone and taking their eyes off the road, common sense has to be promoted by as many stakeholders as possible.

A large chunk of social media and text messages couldn’t even remotely be described as important and could definitely wait until later to be responded to, so we’re always pleased to see features introduced such as the iPhone’s Do Not Disturb.

It’s encouraging to see organisations stepping up efforts to highlight this reducing but nevertheless enduring and serious habit, from the DfT’s THINK! campaign to Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative’s Road Respect umbrella that will see footage of law-flaunters captured by its event vehicle and labelled as ‘bozos.’

It works both ways

Some responsibility, though, has to be shouldered by relatives, friends and colleagues who know that someone will be driving at a certain time, appreciating that phoning someone just for a chat could actually dangerously distract them during their commute or on an unfamiliar route.

Somewhat ironically, the celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman recently voiced the view that even hands-free phone use while driving should be completely banned, and while this step seems a little extreme it’s backed by statistics from the likes of the University of Sussex.

With figures pointing to Brits feeling stressed for nine days every month, perhaps it is indeed time to completely banish any thoughts of phone calls and messages while driving, even if done legally, instead spending time behind the wheel engaged in some mindfulness or listening to relaxing music.

Then again, if car manufacturers and technology firms aren’t exaggerating things, it sounds like autonomous vehicles will be here before we know it, whisking people around safely while enabling them to natter, work and surf as much as they like.

In the meantime, though, we’ll leave you with the succinct words of Neil Worth, road safety officer at GEM Motoring Assist: “You wouldn’t do it with a police officer watching, so ask yourself is there anything that makes it any less risky or foolish just because the police aren’t there? The answer is no. It is irresponsible and puts not only your own safety at risk, but the safety of those who happen to be sharing the road space with you.”

 

Sources:
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/double-penalties-for-motorists-using-mobiles
2. http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/car-news/consumer-news/97514/mobile-phone-offences-plummet-by-39-per-cent-in-a-year
3. https://www.fleetnews.co.uk/news/latest-fleet-news/2018/02/27/uk-drivers-undeterred-by-fines-as-12-000-caught-using-phone-at-wheel
4. https://www.fleetnews.co.uk/news/company-car-tax-and-legislation/2018/02/25/one-in-five-admit-using-their-mobile-phone-when-driving
5. https://www.fleetnews.co.uk/news/company-car-tax-and-legislation/2018/03/01/one-in-five-firms-see-vehicles-crash-due-to-drivers-using-a-mobile-phone-behind-the-wheel
6. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/feb/13/driving-talking-phone-advice
7. https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/cars/924054/Using-phone-while-driving-car-insurance-premium-cost-price
8. https://www.driving.co.uk/news/laywer-nick-freeman-calls-ban-hands-free-phone-use/
9. http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/35831
10. http://think.direct.gov.uk/mobile-phones.html
11. http://roadsafetygb.org.uk/news/north-east-campaign-hunts-mobile-phone-bozos/
12. https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/health/how-often-do-other-people-feel-stressed-a3766216.html
13. https://www.motoringassist.com/motoring-advice/news/whatever-the-penalty-using-a-mobile-phone-while-driving-is-far-too-risky/