Hands free mobile phone use behind the wheel is again making the headlines.

An opinion piece on the Road Safety GB website highlights the how current policies on law and enforcement are having a dangerous influence on behaviour

A phone in the hand…

It is increasingly common to see drivers texting while stopped in traffic or using their devices to check routes or change music. It is equally common to hear drivers on handsfree mobile phone calls, or to see them seemingly talking to themselves as they drive. When driver distraction is mentioned in the media it is usually with reference to the illegal – handheld – form of the behaviour.

However, as plenty of research studies have categorically shown, hands free is no more risk free than hand held.

Power of the law

It makes sense that legislation is in place to ban the dangerous behaviour of holding and interacting with a phone when driving. Nevertheless, people continue to engage in this risky behaviour, perhaps because they feel they are a better than average driver.

Over the last 30 years, research has demonstrated the impact of phone use on driving performance. Hazard detection ability, reaction times and eye movements are all adversely affected. Regardless of whether a phone is used handheld or handsfree, phone using drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a collision.  This increased risk persists for around five minutes after a call has ended.

Such research has highlighted that the key issue with phone use is the cognitive distraction it imposes. It is not simply the manual and visual distraction of holding and looking at a phone.

Handsfree phone-using drivers can look directly at a hazard yet fail to see it (a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness). Their attention is focused on their phone conversation. The findings on the effects of phone use are emphatic: having both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

The concern is that enforcement of the law  for hand-held phone use is encouraging drivers to use handsfree phone systems. However, this is proven to be just as dangerous. The law is a blunt tool for one area. This is not just ignoring the the risks of handsfree, but actively encouraging its use.

Calling for more

What is needed is pro-active education in the face of a lack of legislation. Drivers need to understand the real dangers, potential consequences and the need to abstain. Rather like drink or drug driving, much of the success of the campaigns has been through education, not just legal enforcement.

The authors of the piece, in the absence of any change to the law, want to:

  • encourage the sharing of education on the equal dangers of handsfree use to all detected handheld phone offenders.
  • explore the (re)introduction of courses for mobile phone offenders, using evidence-based practice to educate drivers about the safety risks, not just the enforcement risks, of phone use.
  • train police officers to discourage handsfree phone use in their interactions with offenders.
  • increase public awareness on the dangers of handsfree phone use.
  • encourage fleets to lead by example and ban all phone use for their employees.

If we continue to see enforcement as the answer to our distracted driver problem, we won’t save the lives and prevent the harm that we might expect.

See the full article here.