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Kill this lethal habit of social media at the wheel

820_driver mobile phone hand
Checking texts or social media while driving still counts as using the phone with potentially fatal consequences


15 March 2016

360NEARLY a fifth of motorists who have used social media at the wheel believe they can check or update their Twitter or Facebook accounts and drive safely at the same time.

And alarmingly 14 per cent of offenders say they have been doing so for work.

These are just two of the shock findings of a new YouGov survey which shows how drivers still flout the rules about not using a mobile phone while driving – putting themselves and others at risk.

“There’s no doubt that social media has become ingrained in our daily lives; whether it’s to stay connected or a force of habit; it’s clear that a minority of the nation still feel the need to update or check their social platforms even when undertaking a demanding task such as driving,” said Julie Robertson – partner, head of motoring offences at legal firm Simpson Miller, which commissioned the survey.

Proposed penalties for driver’s hand-held phone use

  • For cars, vans, motorbikes – increase from 3 to 4 penalty points
  • Points double from 3 to 6 for drivers of larger vehicles such as HGVs
  • Fixed penalty increase from £100 to £150
  • First offenders to be offered educational course alternative to penalty – at discretion of police

“Using a mobile telephone whilst driving carries three penalty points (and a £100 fine). However, if the standard of a motorist’s driving is compromised, a prosecution for driving without due care and attention or, worse still, dangerous driving can result.”

In the case of a company car driver that could potentially result in them losing their livelihood or even worse their liberty, she said.

The government is currently undertaking a public consultation to consider tougher penalties for motorists who use a mobile phone while driving. See our report: Car and van drivers facing harsher mobile phone penalties.

If the plans are approved, offending motorists will face four penalty points  –  six for HGV drivers – and a £150 fine, although most first-time offenders will still be offered Driver Awareness courses to change their behaviour.

Almost a quarter of the nation (23%) have read or sent messages while at the wheel, with 65% of these convinced it doesn’t cause a problem if you are stopped in a queue.The survey revealed that 89% of adults questioned online recognised that there is some sort of penalty for using a mobile phone at the wheel, but just under half (47%) knew what it was.

Eight per cent of drivers questioned in the survey admitted using social media behind the wheel, with almost half of them believing that it didn’t cause a problem if they were stationary in traffic.

Obviously some people, some of the time, value their social connectivity more than they value their safety and the safety of others

Shaun Helman, head of Transport Psychology at Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), says: “Any task that involves holding a device, looking at it, and interacting with it during driving will adversely affect driving performance. We recently found  that between 10-30% of road accidents in the EU are at least partly caused by distraction, and social media is an increasing risk in this area.

“Obviously some people, some of the time, value their social connectivity more than they value their safety and the safety of others. It is this perspective that should be targeted.

“A combination of education and enforcement is required to change drivers’ understanding of not only the risks involved, but the social unacceptability of being distracted at the wheel.”

Ms Robertson concluded: “Whilst social media has become a large part of our everyday lives, it is important for drivers not to engage in social media activities or use their telephone whilst driving due to the dangers this can cause.”

She added: “Drivers must educate themselves of the dangers of distracted driving but also be aware of their legal rights when they do find themselves in trouble.”

Manchester-based fleet risk management experts 3Sixty Fleet says companies should take a firm line on the problem.

Employers who provide company cars need to have a robust mobile phone policy and this needs to be led from the top down.

Andrew Drewary, the company’s Consultant Accident Analyst, says: “It is quite clear from the statistics that car drivers do not consider the potential catastrophic consequences of using a mobile device while driving.

“It is such an endemic practice within society and most people assume that they are not even looking at the device while they are using it. However, this is not the case as can be clearly seen on the roads every day.

“Company car users who carry out this surreptitious pastime do not realise how much time their eyes are diverted from looking at the road ahead.

“The average time it takes to check your speedometer is 1.5 seconds, therefore at a speed of 30mph a vehicle will have travelled just over 20m. So anyone looking at their mobile device will have their attention distracted for considerably longer and travel a lot further without realising it.

“Employers who provide company cars need to have a robust mobile phone policy and this needs to be led from the top down.

“The safest policy is to have zero tolerance to any mobile phone use while an employee is on a journey. This would encourage drivers to take regular breaks which would help alleviate tiredness issues on the road.”








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