According to official statistics, 7 in 10 Britons own a smartphone and it’s become totally normal to use your handheld device whenever it’s convenient to do so. But drivers face strict legal penalties if caught using their phones while behind the wheel, and studies suggest that taking a call can impair a driver just as much as alcohol or drugs.
No matter how highly you rate your texting-while-driving skills, there can be severe consequences while using your phone behind the wheel…
Wrong side of the law
There are strict laws surrounding the use of mobile phones while driving. Point blank; it’s illegal to do it. That includes reading text messages, making a call (without using a hands-free kit) and using the internet. The only exception is if you’re calling 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s impossible to stop your car. If you’re caught using a phone behind the wheel, you could face a fine of up to £1,000 and be handed a possible six-month driving ban. Employers who require their staff to make calls while driving can also be prosecuted. While there’s no law against using a hands-free kit to make and answer calls, you could still receive a £60 fine and 3 penalty points if you’ve caused an accident while on the phone.
The road risks
Using your phone while driving may increase your stress levels and pulls your attention away from the road. It can also disturb your concentration and your ability to spot potential hazards early. Studies on inattention (or perceptual blindness) have shown that mobile phone usage while driving significantly reduces the amount of visual information you consume by up to 50 per cent. This could result in you skipping a red light or failing to notice a stop sign or pedestrian. Stay safe; do not pick up a call unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Are you an addict?
We reach for our phones as much out of habit and boredom as necessity. But it’s possible to change your behaviour and put safety first:
- Check your phone before you turn the ignition, and dispatch all messages before you start driving. Turn it off until you reach your destination
- If you have a trustworthy passenger, recruit them to take your calls or send messages on your behalf
- Pull the car over if you get a call you absolutely need to take or a note that has to be sent
- Feeling stressed and anxious about a call you just have to make? Take a few deep breaths and re-consider how important it is in the grand scheme of things
- If you use your phone to play music or podcasts, switch it to Airplane Mode before you start driving
- Getting itchy to check your messages during a boring drive? Un-learn the habit by keeping your phone out of reach, challenge yourself to find something interesting in the scenery or in the cars around you, and stay focused on how the car is running
- Keep your work culture aware of the potential legal and safety consequences, and support a ban on phone use in cars