Alistair Suttie: Don't stop at phones to prevent driver distractions

A man using his mobile phone while driving. Picture: PAA man using his mobile phone while driving. Picture: PA
A man using his mobile phone while driving. Picture: PA
MOBILE phone use is illegal for all drivers, but should we simply ban all activity with the driver's hands that are not concerned with driving?

It has been illegal to use a mobile phone while driving in the UK since 2003. Figures clearly show that a driver using a mobile phone when driving is more than twice as likely to be involved in a collision and the level of distraction is similar to being over the drink-drive limit. To make sure drivers concentrate on the task in hand of piloting their vehicle safely, should we simply ban all non-driving activity that requires the use of the driver’s hands?

Spend time in a car on any journey and you will see other drivers using their hands to work satellite navigation systems, tune the radio, plug in their MP3 player, smoke a cigarette, drink from a bottle, eat food, apply make-up and many other activities that take their attention away from the complex skills needed to drive safely and properly.

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If you need to eat or drink while on the move, it tells you that your body needs sustenance and the chance to take on fuel. The best way to do this is to stop and take a break, as it lets your mind rest too as you fill up on energising food.

Eating and drinking while driving can cause the human mind to overheat with multi-tasking activity. This leads to drivers who eat or drink on the move being twice as likely to be involved in a crash.

The consequences of this are that the police could prosecute a driver in this situation for driving without due care and attention, which carries a penalty of up to nine points on your driving licence and a fine.

The same penalties can be applied to any driver deemed to be driving without due care and attention, the key being the lack of attention caused by whatever the driver was doing at the time of the collision or being stopped by the police.

That’s right, you don’t need to be involved in a collision to be prosecuted. All the police need to be convinced of is that you were not paying full attention to your driving. When trying to unwrap a chocolate bar or light a cigarette, change radio stations or take a sip from a water bottle, it only takes a small lapse in concentration for your driving to become dangerous to yourself and others.

For this reason, all and any activity at the wheel of a car that requires the use of your hands for anything other than driving the car should be banned in the same way as mobile phone use. The distraction is just the same, whether you’re juggling a phone or sandwich when you’re driving.

While no-one sets off on a car journey intending to cause a collision, it’s all too easy to fall into this category by allowing your concentration to lapse thanks to doing other actions inside the car. By banning these activities, it would send a clear message that time behind the wheel is exclusively for driving.

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