Ten years ago it was made illegal to use a mobile phone to talk or text while driving in the UK. Similiar measures were introduced in Ireland too and currently you can face a 2 penalty point enforcement and a €60 fine for holding a mobile phone whist driving. Hence came the boom in Hands-free sets as a safe option for in-car conversations by drivers. This is despite us all wondering how much different the hands free sets really were when it came to safer driving, but now there are calls to ban these too.
According to road safety charity Brake, having a hands-free chat while driving is as dangerous as having a drink before you get behind the wheel.
The number of drivers who still get Penalty points for this offence is staggering with 1747 points issued in Kilkenny alone in October 2013, according to RSA statistics.
But road safety charity Brake says current legislation doesn’t go far enough. According to the charity, a conversation on a hands-free kit is distracting enough to reduce driver reaction times by 30 percent. That’s worse than being just over the drink-drive limit.
The campaign comes as the charity launches Road Safety Week, highlighting the dangers of taking your eyes, hands or mind off the road.
Brake says 20% of all crashes could be caused by drivers distracted by secondary tasks such as eating, drinking or smoking at the wheel. Being stressed, angry or upset also puts you more at risk.
Conversations it says should only be conducted with passengers.
The charity warns that drivers who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves. Its research shows 98 percent of drivers are unable to divide their time without it affecting their performance.
Neil Greig is Director of Policy and Research at the Institute of Advanced Motoring. He supports Brake’s campaign in theory. But he says their solutions are unrealistic:
“I think Brake are absolutely right that taking a hands-free call does distract you from driving but I think it’s a big leap to then try and legislate against that. It would be a very difficult law to enforce because how on earth would the police know that you’re talking on a hands-free phone? You may be singing, you may be talking to a passenger.”
Brake suggests drivers should turn off their phones while on the road or even store them in the boot to keep temptation out of reach.
Ellen Booth says the strength of evidence against talking and driving means a ban on hands-free sets is only a matter of time.
She explains why talking to a passenger is safer than talking on the phone: “Passengers will naturally come to a pause if you’re approaching a junction or something like that. They’re aware of the environment that you’re driving within whereas someone on the phone just isn’t.”
The charity’s calling on the government to raise the current £100 fine to £1,000. The campaign is being supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who is coordinating a week long crack-down across the country on drivers using hand-held phones. So if you’re driving in the UK this week or driving in Ireland you should expect to get caught if you’re using the phone whilst driving and you should be asking yourself is this really necessary.
What changes would it make to our work and leisure lives if we could not use the phone whist driving?