Road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist is reminding all drivers that phone calls and texts – even in hands-free mode – should wait until they are safely parked with the engine off and the handbrake on.
The call follows a report from Driving for Better Business warning that half of company directors expect their employees to answer their phone while driving.
GEM road safety officer Neil Worth says holding and using any device while in control of a car is a potentially lethal distraction. He appeals for all drivers to understand the unacceptable level of risk that goes with using a phone while at the wheel, whether illegally hand-held or legally hands-free.
“A hands-free device may allow you to keep both hands on the wheel, but ‘hands-free’ unfortunately doesn’t mean ‘brain-free’. Using your phone while driving is an avoidable distraction which raises the risk you pose to other road users.
“Driving is a complex enough task requiring all your attention. Allowing yourself to be distracted while driving – for example by a phone conversation – puts you and those around you at higher risk.”
Hands-free doesn’t equal safe
Research has shown that drivers using hands-free phones fail to notice hazards, even those directly in front of them. They may stop using mirrors and indicators as they try to reduce their mental workload, and they need more space to stop. Researchers have also found that a driver’s mental distraction associated with being on a phone call can last up to five minutes after the call has ended (Research by Dr Gemma Briggs, Open University).
All the time they assume that because they’re hands-free, they’re safe, when the truth is that they are dangerously distracted.
Neil Worth added: “We only have 100 per cent concentration, so if we allow ourselves to take part in a conversation or try to read and respond to data, we’re seriously reducing our ability to focus on the journey, on the road ahead and on the hazards that may be developing.
“That’s why we are encouraging all drivers to put safety first and leave their phone calls and texts until they have parked somewhere safe.
“Clearly it takes two to have a conversation, so we urge work colleagues, friends or family members to avoid calling people they know are driving. In doing so they know they are playing their part in making journeys safer.”
The current penalty of a £200 fine with six penalty points was introduced on 1 March 2017.
GEM has a number of simple tips regarding mobile phones and driving:
A short GEM video, ‘Kill the Conversation’, sets out details of the mobile offence, the risks and the penalties.
Follow GEM on Twitter @MotoringAssist for the latest industry news.