Everyone knows that talking on the phone whilst driving is illegal. It is not only illegal to talk on the phone, but also to text or access the internet. This ban applies also to situations in which the flow of traffic is at a standstill, such as at traffic lights and in queues. The same no-phone rule applies also to persons supervising young drivers. Penalties are severe: there is an Automatic Fixed Penalty Notice on all the offences described, which means £60 in penalties in addition to three points on the driving licence. This is significant, considering that under the New Drivers’ Act the incurrence of six or more penalty points within two years of passing the test will result in the removal of the driving licence.
Using a moble phone whilst driving is regarded as highly dangerous, as it distracts the driver from what is happening on the road. According to a study conducted in 2003 by the Société de l’assurance automobile de Québec, lack of concentration means the relative risk of accidents increases significantly. Directgov.co.uk states that drivers who are using their mobile phones are four times more likely to crash, owing partially to worse reaction times than somebody driving under the influence of alcohol. Accident statistics therefore clearly show that those who subject themselves to the distraction of their mobile phones will be much more likely to need to regularly check for affordable second-hand cars for sale.
But what is it about using a mobile phone that is so much more distracting than talking to a passenger?
The question here is really whether it is the act of talking, or the fact that somebody holding a mobile phone to their ear with one hand will have to juggle this with steering, indicating, and changing gear.
According to a study conducted by the University of Utah, holding phone conversations using a headset does not decrease the risk for accidents in comparison to the use of a hand-held mobile phone. If the argument therefore is that by holding the phone, the driver is physically occupied with an item that is not his or her car, then activities such as eating, or changing CDs and radio channels should be considered to be equally dangerous. Most cars, however, have drinks holders, which positively encourage drivers to finish their coffee-to-go while on the road.
The idea that it is the additional mental occupation of holding a conversation also makes sense in terms of the above study. Whilst talking using a headset, the driver will be equally engaged in a dialogue which probably has little to do with what is going on around him. This notion is supported by the fact that talking to passengers does not, according to studies, seem to have the same adverse effect on the driver’s ability to concentrate on the road. The passengers are in the same car, and able to interact with the road situation themselves.
The logical conclusion here seems to be that both of those forms of distraction are present as a consequence of talking on the phone whilst driving, i.e. engaging with something outside of the immediate realm of the car and its position within traffic.
Phone laws and accident statistics however mostly, in my mind, serve to emphasis one thing: that we are not careful and not attentive enough. There are few drivers who can honestly say that whilst driving, they are not thinking of something else, listening to music, or eating a mid-afternoon snack. The dangers of talking on the phone while driving are the perfect example of the flip side of both physical and mental multi-tasking.