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18 June 2019

Distracted driving dangers – from phone use at the wheel

First published18/06/2019

The latest research reveals that the use of hands-free phone systems is just as dangerous as driving drunk. The UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) has carried out extensive research into the use of cellphones by drivers.

Moves to improve road safety in the UK have seen a reduction in the casualty rate, with a notable drop in the 2007-2012 period. However in the last five years, there has been minimal progress, with the UK’s road casualty figures remaining broadly static.

There is particular concern over the use of cellphones by drivers. Evidence suggests that this problem has worsened in recent times, with a negative effect on road safety. As a result, the UK’s Transport Committee recently an evidence session to assess if the current laws on using a mobile phone while driving are fit for purpose.

Following changes to legislation in 2017 there was an initial trend in fewer people offending and using mobile phones while driving. Unfortunately, bad habits in mobile phone use have begun to creep up. Using social media, taking photos and videos while driving is a serious issue, particularly amongst younger drivers.

TRL’s Chief Scientist, Dr Shaun Helman, spoke to the Transport Committee around the risks of drivers using a mobile phone and presented crucial findings around the latest research.

This research shows that there is no difference in the extent of distraction when comparing hand-held phone use and hands-free phone use due to the cognitive distraction placed on the driver. It also shows that using a mobile phone while driving, either hands free or hand-held, is the same as being just above the legal limit of alcohol in terms of distraction.

According to TRL, it is vital for current legislation to be updated to reflect advances in mobile phones and in-car technology.

However, changing legislation is not a complete solution; there is a need for better data, in-depth crash investigation work and a robust approach to enforcement and education to increase public perception of the true dangers associated with mobile phone use.

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