More on mobile phones

Nothing accidental about using a mobile phone whilst driving

So the House of Commons Transport Committee has reported back on their mobile phone inquiry.

The Transport Committee’s recommended the Government…

  1. Redefine the offence so that it covers all hand held usage, and removes the current restriction to sending or receiving data
  2. Explore options to extend the ban to hands free mobile phones, with a public consultation by the end of 2019.
  3. Assess and report on the effectiveness of increasing the penalties for mobile phone use
  4. Explore options for improving enforcement of this offence
  5. Implement public awareness campaign on the risks of using a mobile phone whilst driving, including how to target likely offenders
  6. Produce guidance and instruct drivers in its employment not to use a mobile phone whilst driving

Here RoadPeace feedbacks on three key issues raised and what more should be done to detect and deter use of mobile phones by drivers.

Banning handsfree use

First, much of the press focused on the recommendation to consider banning hands free mobile phone use. This is long overdue. It has been over 17 years since the evidence started mounting of the risks involved with drivers using mobile phones, even hands free, with a 2002 TRL research report concluding that

driving behaviour is impaired more during a phone conversation than by having a blood alcohol level at the UK legal limit (80mg / 100ml)

In 2018, WHO reported that some 33 countries had banned hands free phone use, including many in Africa, Middle East and Latin America. So whilst Britain is often described as a world leader in road safety, we (and the rest of Europe) are lagging behind in tackling mobile phone use.

Increased risk

Second, new evidence submitted to the inquiry highlighted how the risk persists after the call….

with a hands-free phone call, or with any phone conversation, for around five minutes after you have ended the conversation—if that is what you were doing with the phone—you are still at significantly increased risk of being involved in a collision. You are around four times more likely to be involved in a collision for five minutes after you have ended the call. That is because we are talking about cognitive distraction.

Enforcement is key

And third, as rightfully recognised by the Transport Committee, enforcement is key. But RoadPeace’s recent analysis has showed, enforcement is missing. Our Tackling the mobile menace briefing, published this April, revealed just how extensive the decline in mobile phone detection has been. Sanctions for mobile phone use by drivers in 2017 had fallen 67% from 2011, with 35% of this decrease since 2016. Almost all police services reported a decrease in mobile phone detections, with only Staffordshire and Hampshire reporting an increase between 2011 and 2017.

With only 426,282 drivers sanctioned for using a mobile phone in 2017 across England and Wales, this is an average of three sanctions per day per police service.

But the frequency of detection and sanctions varied widely across police services. The national average for the number of mobile phone sanctions given per Killed and Seriously injured in England and Wales was 1.6. But this varied from a low of 0.5 in South Yorkshire to 3.8 in Cheshire.

What more recommendations did RoadPeace want to see?

Here’s a few more recommendations for government….

  1. Collision investigation. Mobile phone use should be checked in all fatal and life threatening injury collision investigations. The current guidance for police, published by the College of Policing, does not include this. Practice varies widely across police services.

This is also why the reported contributory factor statistics on mobile phone use are misleading. There is no accurate data on the number of collisions caused by mobile phone use as this is not being checked.

  1. Charging standards. Use of a hand held mobile phone is included in the CPS charging standards for both careless and dangerous driving.   Carless driving refers to when the driver is avoidably distracted whilst dangerous driving refers to avoidably and dangerously distracted.
  2. Training. Both police and CPS should be trained in the lasting impact of mobile phone use by drivers, as well as when mobile phone use is dangerous, and not just careless.  Police and CPS need to know that distraction continues for several minutes after the call has ended and not just consider mobile phone use at the time of crash or immediately before.
  3. Out of court sanctions. Almost five out of six sanctions for mobile phone use are given out of court, through FPNs and NDORS (National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme) So out of court sanctions need to be a priority. These should include
    1. Unlimited fines. Britain already has this for drink and drug driving but these should be extended to all driving offences that pose risk of death or injury.
    2. Vehicle impoundments. Britain needs to learn from Canada where short term vehicle impoundments have been introduced for first time drink drivers. These can be ordered by the police without needing to go to court. Police already have this power in Britain but use it almost exclusively for only uninsured vehicles.
    3. Mobile phone impoundments. And why not impound mobile phones. These phones could be kept in a secure place and not accessed with return after a few days or weeks.
  1. Court sanctions. And of the few cases that make it to court, very few result in a driving ban. In 2017, of the 8,330 drivers convicted at court for using a mobile phone, only 23 were banned. That is a ban rate of 0.3%.

We need Magistrates Sentencing Guidelines to encourage greater use of driving bans, with bans mandatory in cases where serious injury has been caused.

  1.  Insurance companies. The financial cost of drink driving has been well publicised, including by DfT. Use of mobile phone by drivers should also incur stiff increases in insurance premiums, at a minimum.

The Transport Committee’s report was published during August, National Road Victim Month. This year the theme is Crash not accident. There is nothing accidental about using a mobile phone whilst driving. RoadPeace appreciates the Transport Committee’s report referred to collisions throughout its report.