By Rebecca Needham, road safety officer (England), Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)
Do you remember what your mobile phone looked like in 2003? It probably allowed you to text, call and maybe play Snake II. That is, if you had one at all.
These days, our phones offer endless entertainment opportunities which can be fun, but dangerous in the context of driving a vehicle.
Drivers who pick up their phones when behind the wheel are gambling with their own lives and the safety of others – as they are four times more likely to crash.
Last year on Great Britain’s roads there were 368 collisions, of all severities, where use of a mobile phone was assigned as a contributory factor.
The UK Government has recently announced that it will tighten the rules around mobile phone use while driving.
It will now be illegal to hold a phone and use it for virtually any purpose when behind the wheel.
This change is hugely welcome, as the initial legislation which banned mobile phone use while driving was passed in 2003, well before the age of the smartphone, and focused on interactive communications only.
Of course, distracted driving is a problem that expands beyond mobile phones. Playing loud music, eating or drinking, having a conversation with a passenger, reaching into the glove box or lighting up a cigarette could all divert a driver’s attention away from the road.
People cannot always safely multi-task while driving, especially if the second activity is time-consuming or complex.
Any secondary activity puts extra demands on the driver, which may reduce their driving standard.
For example, it may cause the driver to become less observant or to make poor decisions about how to control the vehicle safely.
This lower standard of driving means a driver is more likely to fail to anticipate hazards and this can, of course, result in accidents.
Distracted drivers can:
■ Be less aware of what’s happening on the road around them.
■ Fail to see road signs.
■ Fail to maintain proper lane position and a steady speed.
■ Be more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front.
■ React more slowly and take longer to brake.
■ Be more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic.
Distracted driving is by no means a trivial matter, it can lead to serious and fatal collisions.
Road accident data suggests that in 2020, ‘distraction in vehicle’ contributed to 2,034 accidents and ‘distraction outside vehicle’ contributed to a further 914 collisions.
Alarmingly, research undertaken by Ipsos Mori shows that using a mobile phone while driving is often indicative of a deep-seated and irresponsible attitude towards the road.
In order to make our roads safer for all, we need to instil the notion that distracted driving is as much of a taboo as drinkdriving.
To achieve this cultural change, we should use a range of tools, tougher penalties, consistent enforcement and targeted campaigns aimed at shifting attitudes.