UK warns hands free is as dangerous as using smartphones on the road



MPs have called on Parliament to enforce a ban on smartphones for drivers and to extend the laws to include “just as dangerous” hands free devices.

The proposal was outlined in a report put forward to the Government earlier today. The report was published by the Transport Committee for the House of Commons after an inquiry was launched back in the March into what could be done to seriously improve road safety and reduce traffic collisions in the UK.

The report claims that drivers who flick through their mobile phone on the road are less aware of their surroundings, fail to spot road signs, fail to stay in their lane and maintain a steady speed, are more likely to tailgate the car in front of them. They also, according to the report, have slower reaction times including when hitting the breaks, are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic and generally display higher levels of stress and frustration than drivers that leave their phones out of sight.

The main purpose of the report is to encourage Parliament to put more resources into enforcing the laws that address smartphone use on the road. While the penalties for breaking these laws saw an increase in 2017, the committee believes that the consequences have not been made clear enough and that law enforcement and tech need to be used to better monitor the roads.

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The group also pushed for hands free devices to be included in the ban as the risks are “just the same”. While often touted as a safe alternative, research shows that using a mobile device – hands free or not – can make a driver four times more likely to be involved in a collision. 

This rise is due to cognitive distractions rather than the physical distraction that comes with fiddling with a phone or taking your eyes off the road. In fact, reducing a driver’s cognitive ability/slowing their reaction time leaves drivers with a similar impairment to those who cross the legal blood alcohol limit, implying that scrolling through Twitter in the drivers seat is almost on par with drunk driving.

Obviously, drunk driving is much more openly condemned by drivers. The comparatively relaxed attitude to using phones on the road meaning that doing so online often goes without comment, especially when it comes to recording video for social media or checking for directions on Google Maps.

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“If mobile phone use while driving is to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving much more effort needs to go into educating drivers about the risks and consequences of using a phone behind the wheel”, said Committee Chair and MP Lilian Greenwood. “Offenders also need to know there is a credible risk of being caught, and that there are serious consequences for being caught”.

The UK Department for Transport is currently wrapped up in an analysis to gain a deeper understand of the “why, how and in what contexts mobile phones are used whilst driving” to help the Government adapt its approach to better address these issues. The analysis is expected to be published this summer.

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