Since it was made illegal for drivers to use hand-held mobile phones while driving 10 years ago, the use of hands-free kits while driving has risen steadily, probably as a result of the belief that this is safe. However, there are serious concerns that hands-free calls still cause of a number of accidents each year.
A recent survey carried out by Brake, the road safety charity, and Direct Line, revealed the following statistics:
It would appear, therefore, that the risks of using a hand-held phone are being accepted by drivers with usage dropping significantly over the past few years (from 36% in 2006 to 13% in 2013). However, with 13% of drivers still admitting to using hand-held mobiles while driving, the message on safety risks has still not got through to all drivers.
With the fall in the use of hand-held devices, there has been a big increase in the use of hands-free kits (from 22% in 2006 to 38% in 2013). Many drivers seem to be under the impression that this provides a safe alternative as you can keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. However, the risk is not limited to these factors and the distraction of conversation on the telephone is the bigger issue, with reaction times 50% slower than under normal conditions and 30% slower than drivers who are at the drink drive limit.
Following the findings, Brake has renewed calls for hands-free kits to be banned while driving. William Broadbent, associate in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, commented: “The dangers of driving on increasingly busy roads are great enough and drivers have to give it their full attention. Unfortunately, however, the figures come as no surprise as it seems to be sociably acceptable to talk on a hands-free kit while driving. The fact that there is no ban in place in this regard only re-enforces this belief, sending a very mixed message to drivers. The reality is that any distraction when driving can make the difference between the ability to react to a situation and a failure to react resulting in potentially catastrophic consequences.
“The statistics on text messaging and using other apps are even more worrying as, while the risks of using a hands-free kit may not be immediately obvious, the risks of these practices would seem to be common sense. However, these practices are also becoming socially acceptable and action needs to be taken to stamp this out before it becomes a bigger problem.
“The difficulty with a ban, however, as is seen from the statistics, is that this will not necessarily change people’s habits and more widespread education of the risks is required. The other difficulty is how effective a ban would be and how to enforce this. Surrey Police has recently undertaken a pilot scheme, 'Operation Tramline', using an unmarked HGC Tractor as a platform to observe driver habits. This has detected numerous violations and the approach maybe the way forward. In the cases we are dealing with, police investigations have revealed that mobile phone usage is a factor and we believe that a number of serious accidents could be avoided if mobile phone usage by drivers in its entirety were reduced.”