Mobile Phone Menaces Face Three Points In The Post

With just one weekend to go until new, stiffer penalties for using hand-held phones behind the wheel come into force, the RAC Foundation reveals exclusive survey results showing that drivers need better support from mobile phone retailers about safe use of phones behind the wheel if they are to avoid a fine, points, or a potentially devastating accident.

  • Although all mobile retailers advised our mystery shoppers that the law requires motorists to use a handsfree kit while driving, just one in three explained that this is because using a hand-held phone can be distracting.
  • Only one retailer in five (20%) explained that drivers face an increased risk of being involved in an accident while using a hand-held phone.
  • Only one retailer in 20 (5%) advised that talking on a hands-free phone can also increase the risk of being involved in an accident.

The RAC Foundation is warning motorists to stop taking a chance with their chat. It has been illegal to use a hand-held mobile behind the wheel since 1 December 2003, but around half-a-million motorists break this law every day. From 27 February mobile menaces will face a £60 fine and 3 points on their licences. The police have made it clear that they will implement the new rules as soon as they are in force. They do not need to stop your car to issue you with a penalty. Three points in the post might follow an opportunistic call.

A quarter of retailers advised RAC Foundation researchers that Bluetooth headsets would allow motorists to talk and drive safely at the same time. The Foundation is concerned that this under-states the risk of trying to make calls while behind the wheel. New research from the US has revealed that, while hands-free is better than hands-on, it is still a potential distraction, and cannot really be described as ‘safe’- it is the length and intensity of the conversation which slows reaction times.*

The Foundation is calling on retailers and network operators to make advice more easily available to motorists. Our mystery shoppers found leaflets about safe use of phones while driving in just two stores (both O2 stores).

Mobile heroes included:
  • the assistant who insisted our researcher took a catalogue, on which he’d written “£60 fine; three points” next to the recommended hands-free kits.
  • the assistant who told our researcher that he would lose his job if caught using a phone behind the wheel.

Mobile villains included:

  • The assistant who recommended throwing the phone down if blue lights were spotted.

Edmund King, Executive Director of the RAC Foundation, said, “Motorists need to change their mobile habits. From next week motorists could be getting penalty points in the post from police spotting them using hand-held mobiles.

“The best advice is to switch off the phone in the car as new research has shown that even using a hands-free phone can increase the risk of a crash. If drivers must make or take calls they must be handsfree, must use only pre-programmed numbers and must be short and simple conversations. Drivers, employers and callers must take this seriously.

“Our survey shows that some mobile phone retailers could do more to explain the risks drivers run when they try to chat and drive at the same time.  The police must also do more to enforce the law.  Mobile menaces need to know that that they will be caught and fined.”

Jim Ward, Chief Executive of industry association MX Alliance, said, "We welcome this new research from the RAC Foundation and would call for the industry to look at how we can continue to better educate motorists about the dangers of using mobile phones whilst driving. Unless drivers start to change their behaviour and act more responsibly there could be calls in the future for an outright ban on using mobiles."

The RAC Foundation guide to mobile phones includes:-

  • Never use a hand-held phone whilst driving.
  • Buy and fit a good hands-free system, but try not to make calls unless essential.
  • Never compose or read texts or emails while driving.
  • Recognise that driving requires a high level of concentration. Use the built in facilities of the phone to minimise distraction, such as voice mail for incoming calls and single number dialling of pre-programmed numbers.
  • Keep calls short. Don’t chat and never argue.
  • Do not take or make calls when road, traffic or weather conditions are particularly bad.
RAC Foundation Mobile Phone FactFile

  • 84% of the UK population owns a mobile phone (Wireless World Forum)
  • 74,000 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2004 for illegal use of a mobile phone while driving. (Home Office)
  • In 2005, 13 people were killed and over 400 injured in crashes involving drivers using hand-held phones (Department for Transport)
  • Every day 500,000 motorists use a hand-held phone while driving (TRL research)
  • One in six students are physically addicted to their phones. (Dr David Sheffield, University of Staffordshire).
25 February 2007 Staff

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