According to recent figures by the Department for Transport, around 2.1% of drivers in the country have been spotted using their phones behind the wheel. This is a figure that rises to around 4% when we consider just the 17-29 year olds, which signifies a worrying trend.
Obviously, every motorist (and passenger and pedestrian) should be concerned at the prospect of sharing a road with someone who’s barely paying attention. But exactly how are we to deal with this problem, and thereby help make our roads that little bit safer?
In the UK, whether you’ve got the phone pressed against your face or you’re just holding it in a free hand, you’re in breach of the law. And if you’re supervising a learner driver who’s doing either of those things, you’re also in the wrong. If you’ve got the phone tethered to a hands-free device, then you’re legally okay – though satnav systems must be secured to a holder. Finally, you can use your phone when you’re parked up, but not when you’re waiting at traffic lights.
If you’re found guilty of breaking these laws you could end up with a whopping £200 fine and a career-endangering six-point penalty.
Of course, the 2.1% figure we touched upon earlier only describes the proportion of motorists who’ve been caught in the act of using their phones while driving – a far greater number will be doing it undetected. There’s no point in having stiff penalties without the means to enforce them. This means, in practice, more cameras of a quality that can see right into the driver’s seat and make and identify the guilty party.
What about Voice Recognition?
Drivers who reach for their phone while on the road do so for lack of an alternative (excluding waiting to pull over). But increasingly reliable voice-recognition technology may well solve this problem before it spirals out of control. If you can simply instruct your phone to play something on Spotify, or return a call, or read out an email, then there might not be any reason to pick up the phone at all.
The reason that people no longer habitually neck twelve cans before jumping behind the wheel has more to do with ethical advances than it does with the threat of legal penalties. Drink driving was once socially acceptable to an extent that it no longer is; nowadays, if you’re drunk at a party and announce an intention to drive home, you can be reasonably sure that a friend will intercede to correct you. And this is probably more likely for younger people.
This might seem a flawed comparison, but it’s one that’s had endorsement in high places – Theresa May in 2016 indicated a desire to make phone use while driving as socially unacceptable as drink driving: “We need people to realise the tragedy they can inflict in a fleeting moment and stop people using a mobile when their eyes and mind should be on the road and their hands on the wheel.” Which seems, actually, pretty sensible.