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Mobile Phones and the Distracted Driver

Modern technology by the way of smart phones has its advantages, we have access to a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips and we can keep in touch with friends and family in many ways other than a simple phone call; sharing photographs and videos, social medial posts, text messaging and video chat. Despite the great technological advances, safety and common sense are perhaps not advancing at the same rate.  The need to be constantly connected and in touch with friends and family can lead to distraction and absence of mental presence leading to potentially unsafe or dangerous situations.  This is all the more clear in cases of mobile phone use while driving. 

Brake, the road safety charity work with the families of bereaved and injured victims of road accidents and often these accidents have occurred at the hands of a distracted driver attempting to use a mobile phone whilst driving.  Following extensive research into standards and practices in the field of road safety, Brake have made the following recommendations to improve road safety for all users, which include[1] :

  1. Ban use of hands-free phones at the wheel, as evidence shows that they increase crash risk just as much as using a hand-held phone
  2. Implement much higher penalties for any driver using a phone of any type at the wheel. 

The arguments against using mobile phones while driving include a decrease in driver concentration; slowing of driver reaction times; decrease in ability to maintain lane position and to control speed.  It has also been argued that the use of hands free devices does not increase safety as it is the participation in a conversation that is the distraction.

According to Brake, a study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that one in five (22%) of road crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction. It also showed that drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times more likely to crash.

A recent announcement which may assist with road safety has come from Apple, who are introducing a new "Do Not Disturb While Driving" mode for iPhones in its latest software.  The new feature will recognise when a phone is moving in a vehicle and all notifications will be disabled.  Anyone who contacts a person who is driving will receive an automatic reply advising them that their friend or family member is currently driving.  

The introduction of this feature is welcomed by Brake[2] and also by the RAC[3] .  A spokeman for Brake, Jason Wakeford, has said: "This new feature is to be welcomed and will help drivers stay focused on the road and not their phones. Mobile use behind the wheel is a growing menace and so Brake would like to see similar initiatives from other phone manufacturers to help cut distractions in the car.  Advances in technology must also be accompanied by rigorous enforcement and tougher penalties for those who flout the law. Traffic policing should be made a national priority, to ensure that drivers have the expectation that if they use a mobile phone behind the wheel, they will be caught and punished."

Safety should be paramount in the mind of any driver.  Drivers face many common distractions, some of which are unavoidable but the use of a mobile phone when driving is optional.  The storage compartment usually found above the passenger side footwell is often referred to as a glove box.  Whilst the need for driving gloves has long since passed, the handy storage remains.  Perhaps it is time to rename this the “mobile phone box” and shut phones away to provide physical separation from the draw of the mobile phone and the temptations they carry.

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