Technically “yes it is” but the fact that road safety campaigners are warning that mobile phone distraction will become a bigger killer on the UK’s roads than drink driving by 2015 is one that needs to be highlighted.
With car manufacturers pushing the infotainment side if their cars and the fact that they can link up smartphones to screens that you can read whilst driving, and with the numbers of motorists using mobile phones to make calls, texts or social media updates whilst driving rising to almost epidemic levels, it is no real surprise that what has become known as ‘distracted driving’ is expected to be the biggest single cause of death and injuries on the roads next year.
Answering a call whilst driving is easily done (sadly), and answering texts just as easy (but replying to them a lot more dangerous), so what can be done to halt the almost inevitable rise of social-media-led road incidents here in the UK as car manufacturers make it easier to commit this particular crime?
There is the option that Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin floated recently of doubling the current penalty for mobile phone use to six points on a motorist’s licence. Is this enough? Probably not when you consider the large number of people using phones at the wheel that I see driving past police officers, police cars and the like without caution. And anyway, it wouldn’t come into operation until the next parliament at the earliest as MPs are now off on their jollies!
Safety campaigners want a one-year ban, but that is pretty unlikely when you consider what the bans are for drink and drug-driving. And are there that many accidents caused by mobile phone use in a car?
Not according to Department for Transport figures in 2012 that reported 378 accidents specifically involving mobile phone use (more than any year on record) resulting in 548 casualties, including (sadly) 17 deaths. Obviously that is 17 deaths too many, but motoring experts suggest that these figures are actually misleading and, to put a fine point on it, WRONG! This is because many cases involving phones are classed as an "in-vehicle distraction" which actually accounted for 9,012 accidents and 196 deaths between 2010 and 2012.
In comparison to drink-driving deaths over the same period, the total number of deaths is 213, only 27 less than are caused by drink driving; and with drink-driving deaths declining as fast as mobile phone deaths are growing, 2015 is the year that it is predicted that mobile phone distraction is expected to become the biggest cause of death on the roads by 2015.
Simon Marsh, Managing Director of incident video camera firm SmartWitness, said: “The problem is far more widespread than Department of Transport believes and driver distraction due to mobiles will soon be the biggest single cause of death on the roads. We believe a large number of serious and fatal accidents are wrongly classed as “in-vehicle distraction” when the specific cause of the accident was down to mobile phone use.
“The only real deterrent is a one-year ban from driving for anyone caught texting at the wheel. It’s clear that the current legislation isn’t working and an increase to six points for mobile offenders will not be enough to stop the death toll. Lives are being ruined just for the reason that someone wants to send a text message whilst driving. The only message that should be sent is from government to motorists that this is not acceptable."
So is there a distinction being drawn up between mobile phone ‘phone call’ use and mobile phone ‘text’ use? It certainly seems so if you look at what Mr Marsh says. Obviously, as we stated before, the dangers of answering a phone (hopefully on speakerphone) in comparison to texting are infinitely different, with texting relying on eyes-off-the-road use of a keyboard. But I am not saying that either is right to do; just pointing out that one is more distracting than the other, and questioning whether or not offences should be graded.
Since 2009, the number of offenders using a mobile when driving has shot up from 1.2% to 2.6% in three years, with 583,686 drivers being fined £60 and receiving three points on their licence in 2012, more than ten times higher than the 55,300 convictions for drink driving at that time; and it is the age group of 18-25 that is most likely to use mobile phones, actually the age group that has seen the biggest rise in traffic deaths.
Simon Marsh added: “The vast majority of people who use a phone when driving think it’s highly unlikely that they will get caught. It’s not been thoroughly policed and the penalties aren’t that stiff so people are prepared to take the risk. But there should also be greater education for young drivers to see the huge dangers of using their phone when driving, like there has been in the USA and Japan. More campaigns like this need to be done in the UK.”
You can see the Volkswagen viral campaign called “Eyes On The Road” that they launched to raise awareness of mobile use in Japan - which they state is the “leading cause of death behind the wheel” – here.
In Japan, the video was watched over 26m times. Hopefully not on a smartphone whilst driving!