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‘Stop the phone calls that kill’

Paul Withers
December 2, 2013

Road safety charity Brake wants ALL in-car mobile use banned. What does the channel think? A campaign by road safety charity Brake to place a total ban on mobile phone usage whilst driving has received mixed reaction from the industry, with one firm claiming the move was “unrealistic”.

The national campaign, which launched on November 18 in London, wants the laws to be changed so users – even those using a handsfree kit – face fines of up to £1,000 in a bid to reduce road traffic accidents.

The campaign coincided with the start of Road Safety Week, and comes 10 years since the law on banning the physical use of mobile phones whilst at the hands of a wheel was first introduced in the UK.

Suggested measures from Brake include switching off the  phone before entering the vehicle and placing it in the boot to avoid distractions.

A Brake spokesperson said: “Driving is a complex, unpredictable task that needs your full attention. Even a moment’s inattention can be fatal, and no call or text is so important that it’s worth risking lives.

“We want to see the ban on phones at the wheel extended to hands-free phones, it’s not a safe alternative. It’s the call itself that’s a major distraction that can end and ruin lives.

“Mobile phones are increasingly essential tools that help us to manage our everyday lives, and which more and more of us feel dependent on, but the temptation to use them when driving needs to be resisted.

“Our message to drivers is that, however essential that call or text feels at the time, it is never worth risking your own life or the lives of others.”

To help back its claims, Brake unveiled a number of statistics. Information obtained through a Freedom of Information request from the DVLA shows there are currently 575,000 UK drivers with points on their licence as a result of using their mobile at the wheel or being otherwise distracted (the latter not explained).

One in 15 (6.5 per cent) of those drivers have six points or more for driving distracted (again not specified in what capacity).

Worse than drink driving?
The charity says mobile phone use at the wheel is as dangerous as drink driving – and it wants the penalties on offenders to reflect that (see box out).

There is evidence to back Brake’s claims. Research by the ‘Transport Research Laboratory’ (TRL) in 2009 showed reaction times from over the limit drivers reduced by around 30 per cent – and 50 per cent compared to those with no distractions.

The research also showed the breaking distance for a drink driver travelling at 70mph was around 115ft. The breaking distance for a handsfree user was around 128ft, whilst those holding a mobile phone was 148ft.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2006, which tracked the behaviour of drivers of 100 vehicles fitted with video and sensor devices for 18 months, revealed a fifth of road accidents are likely caused by driver distraction.  Drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times as likely to crash.

Brake said: “Bluetooth products are useful for conversations on the go, but many drivers think they are a safer alternative to using a handheld phone at the wheel.”

“The critical message is that using a mobile phone at the wheel is comparable to drinking and driving. It affects reaction times and ability to control your vehicle. The consequences can be just as horrific.”

The campaign has been, perhaps surprisingly, backed by a number of firms, which manufacture and/or sell handsfree products often used to avoid breaking driving laws.

Bluetooth headset  manufacturer Plantronics, which currently supplies 16 Bluetooth headsets for sale across 35 countries, said it backs any campaign to promote safer  driving.

“Whenever possible, do not telephone and drive at the same time, pull over to the side of the road,” a spokesperson said. “If you have to, then use a headset with noise-cancelling for a normal conversation and use voice activation features to operate the phone so you can keep your focus on the road.

O2, which sells nine handsfree car-kits, also backed the campaign, insisting drivers “should never” use their device at the wheel.

A spokesperson said: “Drivers should use their voicemail wherever possible and listen to their messages when they are safely parked.”

Vodafone says drivers should “Pull over safely and switch off their engine whenever they need to make or take a call – or let the call go to voicemail.”

Bluetooth product vendor Parrot, which specialises in car kit products, has major doubts over the campaign.

Parrot UK and Ireland managing director Asif Gillani told Mobile News the proposal by Brake simply does not meet the needs of modern day businesses – with “millions” of employees and employers needing constant contact with each other and their customers.

Gillani says solutions, such as those offered by Parrot, are “safe” for drivers to use, and warns changes would have significant ramifications across many different industries.

“It is possible to communicate while we are driving and to do business without putting ourselves in danger or breaking the law,” said Gillani.

“The question is to know what kind of technology and service can help and support you so you can communicate with your colleagues or customers in a simple and safe way when you are on the road.

“Technological solutions can be used effectively for road safety and at the same time allow an adequate management of communications in the car so the driver can be contractable in a safe way. Both technology and innovation are combined to offer safer solutions that are all too often ignored.

“This campaign could affect the whole industry, but there will also be collateral damages. Self-employed, professionals, taxi drivers, commercial agents, couriers…anyone, any company whose employees need to drive and communicate regularly.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 553 (December 2, 2013).

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