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Mobile phones and driving for work

Updated: Feb 16

Using handheld mobile phones while driving. WHY do people still do this?

Reasons often given for using the mobile while driving:

  1. It is no different from listening to a passenger

  2. I can multi-task

  3. It is an important call

  4. It is no different from having the radio on

  5. H&S gone mad

  6. My job depends on it

  7. What harm am I doing?

  8. I don’t have time to pull in and use the phone

Probably because they do not know or understand the very real danger.

Instead of the authorities trying to alter a driver’s behaviour by enforcement, they should use education. After all, who likes being told what to do?

So what is the problem with using a mobile phone while driving?

Think of a task that you do every day – an example could be driving to work and back five days a week. It is the same time, same route. You get in the car and before you know it, you are at work.

First, let me explain how the brain works. You have a very small part of the brain that deals with the conscious (the part that works out problems). Once the brain has seen and analysed a problem, it will then record and store this experience into the memory.

If you want to think of the brain as a computer, look at it this way; it is a combination of a very large hard drive (memory) and a relatively small processor (the conscious part that works out problems).

Don’t believe me?

Let us go back to the example of you driving to work. You are at work and your partner calls asking if you can call at the shop on your way home to buy some milk.

You finish work and before you realise you are home – without the milk!

Your partner asks if you got the milk – you slap your forehead and admit that you forgot.

So what happened?

Your brain has recorded that journey so many times with very little deviation. You get in your car and the conscious part of your brain identifies which recording to use from your memory for the journey. This leaves the conscious part of the brain free to take care of anything that is unusual on your journey, such as a car pulling in front of you and forcing sudden braking.

Because you have done this journey so many times, you finish work and your brain automatically selects the recording for driving home. But on the recording there is nothing about stopping at the shop for milk.

Now introduce into this situation a mobile phone hand held or hands-free.

Unlike a passenger who can see the road conditions and usually knows when to shut up, or the radio that you can just ignore or switch off, a phone takes nearly all your concentration. This means that your driving relies nearly 100% on your recorded journey experience.

A car pulls in front of you or someone steps out in front of you and you lose vital seconds in taking evasive action.

This can and does take lives.

Recently a truck driver crashed into a car, killing four innocent family members. He had been selecting music on his mobile phone whilst travelling at 50mph. The accident made the main news programmes (including CCTV video of the driver right up to the moment of the crash).

The news then showed and interviewed the grieving family.

None of the common reasons listed at the beginning of this article can justify what this driver had done.

Now you have read this article and understand the process of the brain when driving, watch the CCTV clip of the driver again (I am sure it will be on the internet) and you will be able to see how the conscious part of the brain was so busy with the phone. I believe it is only a matter of time before hands free will become illegal as well as hand held.

Since this original article was written, there has now been an incident which involved using a hands-free kit while driving. It sadly resulted in a fatality.

The driver was distracted by a conversation she was having with her friend – it lasted 25 minutes. The car had drifted onto the wrong side of the road and an oncoming motorcycle was hit head on. She was prosecuted and received a three-year prison sentence.

Full details can be found here

A few more questions have arisen since this article first appeared:

1. Hands-free phones are no more dangerous than talking to a passenger. 2. Using a hands-free kit is still legal so it must be safe. 3. I have both hands free so why is there a problem.

Let me answer these:

Hands-free phones are no more dangerous than talking to a passenger.

When you have a passenger in the car, they are subconsciously reading the road, the same as the driver. When a difficult situation arises, they automatically know to be quiet; they can also see and sense you are having to deal with a situation that requires your concentration. As a last resort, you can instruct the passenger to be quiet. The person on the other end of the phone does not have any idea of what the road is like or the demands on your concentration and will carry on talking. Because you are ‘only talking’, you believe you are perfectly safe, but this is not the case. The conscious part of your brain is having to process audio information and at the same time review and make decisions on images that are being seen, effectively trying to do two completely different tasks at the same time. Usually, the eyes and ears back up each other with the information being fed to the brain, but not in this case.

Using a hands-free kit is still legal so it must be safe

Originally, the distraction was believed to be physical when holding the handset. Since then, there have been studies conducted from accident data which clearly show that this is not the case. You can still ‘legally’ buy cigarettes – would you call them safe?

I have both hands free so why is there a problem?

I think the above answers cover this already.

At one time, drink driving was acceptable behaviour. In fact, the common phrase was ‘have one for the road’. As knowledge and accident data increased, the culture eventually changed. Now drink driving is frowned upon.

Using mobile phones while driving will go the same way.

There is only one SAFE way – when driving, switch it off.

More information

What employers should do

Raise Awareness

Take steps to embed the following points into all recruitment, training and staff appraisal:

  • How dangerous it is to use a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving.

  • What the employer’s policy says about mobile phone use.

  • Letting the phone go to voicemail (or even switching it off) while driving.

  • Stopping in a safe place intermittently to check messages, or having a passenger do so.

  • Maintaining good communication without having to use a mobile phone whilst driving

  • Line managers should set a good example and not use mobile phones when they are driving

  • Managers should not create an environment or culture in which the use of mobile phones while driving is encouraged or condoned.

  • What the legal, financial and PR consequences could be if an employee is found to have used a mobile phone while driving.

It is also important to back up these with enforcement measures so that if there is an incident, the employer can point to the fact that they did everything reasonably practicable to prevent the driver from using a mobile phone whilst driving.

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