Calls are mounting for a ban on the use of hands-free phones while driving after new research revealed their use was detrimental to the performance of 97.5% of drivers.
Drivers on hands-free mobile phones took 20% longer to hit the brakes, following distances increased by 30% as drivers failed to keep pace with traffic and memory performance declined by 11%, according to the study by the University of Utah.
“It’s time that our politicians took note and put an end to the ridiculous situation where using a hand-held mobile is banned, but using hands-free isn’t,” said Ellen Booth, campaigns officer for road safety charity Brake.
“Using a hands-free phone isn’t safer than using a hand-held because it’s the conversation that’s the distraction.
“The person on the other end of the phone can’t tell when you are coming up to a junction or trying to manoeuvre so they will keep on talking and distracting you and expecting you to answer.”
The Department for Transport previously ruled out a review of the law in March 2009 when TRL research found that using a hands-free phone while driving was more likely to lengthen reaction times than having 80mg of alcohol in the bloodstream – the current UK limit – and no political party has shown the appetite to introduce a ban.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “No phone call is worth a life. We urge employers to take the lead in making sure that staff switch off their phones when they switch on their engines.”
Katie Shepherd, from Brake, added: “Fleet managers should carefully consider measures they can take to eliminate, reduce and manage distractions specific to their type of operation.”
A Fleet News poll following the 2009 TRL research revealed a minority (45%) of fleets had banned their drivers from using hands-free phones.
3M banned its 4,000 employees from using hands-free mobiles while driving in July 2008. The ban covers all employees such as sales representatives whether they are driving company cars or using their own vehicles on business.
The company doesn’t marry call data with employees’ driving times in order to monitor compliance. Instead, the ban is based on winning hearts and minds with the repetition and reinforcement of messages over time.
3M’s managing director Doug Mitchell explained: “Our employees’ welfare and safety is paramount to 3M. We have an outstanding record when it comes to the prevention of workplace accidents and we are fully committed to keeping that record whether our employees are on 3M premises or on the move.”
Currently, drivers caught using a handheld mobile phone face three penalty points and a £60 fine, but even without a change in the law for hands-free phones drivers could face prosecution.
“The legislation seems to permit their use whilst driving, but the Crown Prosecution Service has prosecuted drivers for careless driving whilst using a hands-free phone,” explained David Faithful, consultant solicitor with Lyons Davidson.
“One notable prosecution in Warwickshire involving a company driver using a hands-free phone involved in a fatal accident was successfully prosecuted for careless driving but was acquitted of a more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving.”
To read the research and for more information, click here
For more information about distraction guidelines, click here