A strengthening of UK law means police will be able to more easily prosecute drivers using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel.
It’s already illegal to text or make a phone call (other than in an emergency) using a hand-held device while driving. However, next year laws will go further to ban drivers from using their phones to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists or play games. In effect, this will mean anyone caught using their hand-held device while driving will face a £200 fixed penalty notice and 6 points on their licence.
The problem with the existing law is that it can be challenging for the police to prove a call has been made or a text sent. The revised legislation closes this loophole.
However, as with speeding, it seems likely the only way to curb dangerous mobile phone use behind the wheel will be roadside enforcement cameras.
Cameras to catch drivers on the phone
Engineers in Australia have already developed cameras that take a bird’s eye view of passing cars and can very quickly identify the body language of drivers using mobile phones. It’s a solution that we are in desperate need of here in Britain. The threat of a penalty, with very little chance of being caught, seemingly has little effect.
Multi-tasking behind the wheel has become commonplace; eating, talking, arguing, changing music, checking makeup and admonishing children while driving are rarely perceived as posing a danger to ourselves or others. However, research carried out by the AAA Foundation for Traffic in Washington, DC, suggests that even seemingly minor tasks can be distracting.
Researchers asked participants to carry out tasks that ranged in complexity from listening to music up to verifying a number mathematical equations – memorising nouns between each calculations. The tasks were carried out at a desk top, at the controls of a driving simulator and finally behind the wheel of a real car.
The results were consolidated into a single number representative of the mental distraction caused by each task. The participants had their brain waves monitored for ‘event-related potentials’ and at the same time their reaction times were assessed. A score of 1.0 represented doing nothing at all and the maths and word-memory task scored 5.0. The results were surprising:
- Listening to the radio scored 1.21, while having an audio book on the go increased that to 1.75
- Making a hand-free phone call scored 2.27 and a conversation with a passenger in the same car was found to be more distracting at 2.33
- Using a hand-held mobile phone to make a call while driving scored 2.45
- The highest score, 3.06, was attained by those using hands-free texting
Police believe more road traffic collisions are caused by drivers using their mobile phones at the wheel than are currently shown in official records.
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