Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Driven to Distraction

On 1st December 2003 a law came into effect in the UK making the use of a hand-held mobile phone illegal while driving. The law covers all communication equipment other than "two-way radio", and most uses of such equipment including video calls, internet access and text messages.

At the time the law allowed police to issue £30 fines, this rose to £60 in 2007.

Despite this 20% of drivers admit to having texted while driving, despite texting being perceived as the most dangerous distraction while driving. The true number is probably much higher; would you readily admit to committing a driving offence?

Texting while driving is incredibly dangerous. Research by George Mason University and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences carried out at the USA Science and Engineering Festival last October demonstrated to children the difficulties of driving while texting.

It makes me wonder why any sane adult would consider texting while driving. Even using a hands-free mobile is a dangerous activity as shown by a number of studies. Even the Daily Fail reported research which shows that reaction times among drivers on a hands-free set are 30% slower than those over the legal drink-drive limit.

It is the conversation, rather than having one hand occupied, which appears to be the biggest distraction.

If 1 in 5 drivers break the law by texting while driving, what number risk lives by driving legally, but dangerously, on hands-free mobiles?

Evidence based policy fail?


  1. If the conversation is the problem, then what about passengers?


  2. @King

    The suggestion that conversations are the problem comes from The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents' Head of Road Safety, Kevin Clinton, who said:
    "...It is the telephone conversation that is the main problem. People are drawn into the conversation and ignore what is happening on the road around them."

    There is mixed evidence for and against the idea that mobile phone conversations are more distracting than conversations with passengers.

    In general it seems that the main arguments are, whether the passenger varies their requirements upon the driver in response to traffic conditions, and whether the driver is in control of the conversation. It may also be the case that by removing the conversation's frame-of-reference from the vehicle the driver has less of their concentration on and in the vehicle.


    - (States that passengers are a factor in 11% of distraction related accidents, compared to 1.5% for mobile phones. This evidence can quickly be dismissed because it ignores the conversation rate; conversation time per driver per distance)