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Is the law on using mobiles phone while driving making any difference?

October 8, 2008

When the UK government announced that it would make the use of hand held mobile phone while driving illegal there were several things that went through my mind. Specifically, what is so special about hand held mobiles that they need to be singles out by a specific law? And why can’t bad or dangerous driving as a result of using a hand held mobile phone be covered by existing road laws?

Currently I drive a about 40 miles a day on the motorway and every day I am guaranteed to see at least one person using a hand held mobile phone while driving. These fall into 3 categories;

The Conscientious

Mostly men, these drivers are acutely aware that they are breaking the law and try not to make it obvious, they do their best to not get in the way of other traffic and as a result are usually found in the first lane, keeping speed with the other traffic in the same lane. They keep switching concentration between the phone call and the road and are likely to keep a large gap in front of them.

The Distracted

Equally men and women, these drivers are probably aware that they are breaking the law but choose to forget for the duration of the phone call. They are insulated in their own world and are oblivious to the fact that their driving has slowed down and they are now causing an obstruction to other traffic. They are almost always found in the center lane and have no idea at all of the conditions around them. They are likely to spot changing road conditions too late and over-react when they eventually do.

The Couldn’t Care Less

Mostly young women, these drivers are aware that they are breaking the law and frankly don’t care. Will likely get aggressive if you try to challenge them on it. They believe that their driving is unaffected and their phone calls are usually very animated, resulting on no hands on the wheel while their other hand gesticulates as if their conversation  partner is sat next to them. They make no attempt to remove themselves from danger and will match the speed of the traffic of whatever lane they are in, and will even change lane to keep up that speed if traffic conditions change. Observers will note that they tend to ‘wander’ quite a lot within the lane and even over the edges. Causing nervousness to all around them, not that they notice, of course.

While I certainly agree that using a hand held mobile phone is detrimental to overall driving quality, so are a lot of other things, like:

– having children in the car

– changing radio station / cd / tape / ipod track

– singing along

– laughing

– smoking

– talking to a passenger

– getting bored

– eating / drinking

I am sure given 10 minutes anyone could come up with a list of things that could impair the quality of your driving.

The fact is, there is not one single driver who can give 100% concentration to the task in hand 100% of the time. Part of being human is that we are distractable and that very distractableness will sometimes result in accidents and worse.

That’s not to say that we should not have laws of the road to govern safe driving, we most definitely should, but why should we have specific laws that outlaw a specific action, when the consequences of that action are covered by existing traffic offenses. If someone is stuck in traffic and wants to make a quick call home to say so whats the problem? If someone is yabbering on to a friend and as a result is weaving about like a drunkard, well there are traffic laws that cover that.

Active policing of poor quality driving is whats required here, not black and white legislation to blanket cover topics which really should not be dealt with as black and white.

So, back to the original question; has the law banning the use of hand held mobile phones while driving made any difference? Well I don’t think it has made as much of a difference as the law makers thought it would. Given the shortness of my motorway commute and the number of drivers I see using a hand held phone, its clear many people don’t see it as the potential danger it is.

In 2007, not even four years after the law came into effect, New Labour increased further the penalty for being caught. This must be a clear indication that the law is not effective. Increasing the punishment is not the way to make a law more acceptable.

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From → Motoring

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