Drivers warned: ‘switch your mobile off before setting off’

Posted on November 21st, 2011 by GEM Motoring Assist

A smart phone

Smart phones: dangerous when used by not-so-smart drivers. Photo by Tony Buser

Expert backs campaign highlighting dangers of using a mobile phone while driving and says better enforcement is the key to deterring offenders

A road safety expert has urged UK drivers to turn their mobile phones off before each journey and keep them out of reach.

The advice comes from David Williams, MBE, CEO of GEM, a road safety organisation which this week (November 18th 2011) launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers and consequences of using a mobile phone while driving.

Mr Williams acknowledged that it is important for road-users to keep a mobile phone with them in case of emergencies – something which can help motorists access breakdown cover. However, he stressed that it is “illegal and dangerous to use a hand-held mobile while driving”. 

He said: “The temptation to use your mobile phone while driving can be greatly reduced if you turn it off and keep it out of reach.”

Mobile phones and drivers: the law

It is currently illegal to drive a vehicle or ride a motorcycle while using a hand-held mobile phone or smartphone. Receiving written messages while behind the wheel is also forbidden. Both these laws apply even when a car is stopped at traffic lights or stuck in traffic.

Motorists face a minimum of three penalty points on their licence and a fine of £60 if they are caught using a mobile phone. Police also have the discretion to impose fines of £1,000 or send a motorist to court if they deem an offence to be blatant or protracted. 

If it is established that mobile phone usage has been a contributing factor in a crash then a driver can be prosecuted on a charge of careless or dangerous driving. Causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Motorists who ignore the law

Earlier this year (2011) a survey of 841 drivers by road safety charity Brake found that despite these laws…

• 28 per cent of UK motorists regularly text while driving

• 8 per cent of these texting drivers do so once a week

• 9 per cent of drivers browse the internet, send emails, use phone apps or access social networking sties while on the road

How mobile phone usage can distract drivers

Research conducted by US researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation in 2009 Institute looked at just how distracting this behaviour can be. By fitting video cameras to the cabs of long-haul trucks, the study found that drivers took their eyes off the road for an average of four out of six seconds while texting. 

This meant that at a speed of 55 miles per hour, texting truckers took their eyes off the road for a distance equivalent to travelling the length of a football field.

The survey found that drivers of heavy vehicles were 23 times more vulnerable to being exposed to a safety-critical event while sending an SMS message.

Should the motoring mobile phone laws be changed?

The compelling evidence presented by such research has caused many road safety experts to question whether the existing minimum three-points penalty and £60 fine for mobile-using motorists is tough enough. Brake has proposed that a 12-month disqualification should be introduced instead.

David Williams of GEM shares Brake’s belief that mobile phone usage on the roads needs to be strongly discouraged but said: “In general I think that the penalties for motoring misdemeanours are at a correct level; it’s identifying and catching offenders which is proving more problematic.” 

He added: “Instead of creating new rules, there needs to be better allocation of resources to enforce existing rules. Measures such as employing more traffic police could – and would – make our roads safer.”