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Mobile phones are not the only distraction for drivers

Apr 18, 2017
Deputy Editor David Jordan comments on the new rules for drivers using mobile phones and looks at some other distractions that put us all at risk.

As you probably know, the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving in the UK were doubled on 1 March, 2017 to a £200 fine and six penalty points. For those caught within two years of passing their test the penalty is even more severe and will require the offender to retake both the Theory and Practical test to regain their entitlement to drive. Professional drivers are also likely to suffer more penalties from their employer and may even lose their job.

Traffic Commissioners can also call professional drivers to conduct hearings for mobile phone offences. For the first mobile phone offence, the starting point is a four-week suspension of the driver’s vocational licence.

Quite right too in my opinion; but why have mobile phones been singled out for special treatment?

During my travels, up and down the country, I’ve seen drivers reading maps at the wheel; a lady driving towards me putting on mascara; a man reading a newspaper while driving on the motorway; and watched people driving off from our local Costa Coffee drive-through holding a cup full of scalding liquid in one hand and trying to steer with the other. How distracting would that be if you spilt it on your sensitive regions? Car manufacturers even seem to encourage drinking while driving – well, non-alcoholic drinks at least – otherwise why would they install cup holders in their cars?

Car accessory manufacturers are no better. Did you know there’s a full range of clipboards designed to fit on a steering wheel to make it easier to write on? You can even get ones to hold your laptop at the perfect angle for typing and at least one that can accommodate a calculator as well. Google ‘clipboards for steering wheels’ if you don’t believe me. Okay, they are supposed to be used when you’re parked, but over the past few years I’ve seen people using them on the move on more than one occasion.

There is no doubt that society is obsessed with mobile media and there have been a number of high-profile cases recently in the UK involving drivers using mobile phones causing terrible accidents and deaths. While in no way condoning drivers using mobiles, offenders are an easy target and evidence is readily available to gain a conviction, but as the examples above show, phones are far from the only distraction at the wheel.

Some motoring organisations are calling for better driver education to help solve the problem, and I agree. The best way of educating them is to hit them very hard in the wallet, not send them on training courses they don’t want or need to attend. Everyone who drives knows what they should and should not be doing behind the wheel, it’s just that some don’t care. We all make mistakes out there on the road, however good we are at driving, but nobody accidentally uses a mobile phone, drinks coffee, or reads a newspaper when they’re behind the wheel, they are all deliberate acts that put others in danger.

If there was a minimum fine of £1,000 for not looking where you’re going I suspect there would be far fewer distracted drivers. And if you think that’s a bit harsh, remember, that’s what you get for not having a television licence.

David Jordan is a former motorcycle riding instructor and a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

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