Keele researcher urges drivers to leave their phones alone

Keele researcher Dr Helen Wells is urging drivers to consider safety first, and leave their phones alone whilst driving. It comes as police forces around the country are taking part in a week of action aimed at enforcing the law against mobile phone use by drivers.

Dr Wells, a criminologist at Keele University, is working on a Road Safety Trust-funded project which looks at ways of preventing mobile phone use by drivers. Through the project - Mobile Engaged - Dr Wells has been working with organisations around the country that are running initiatives designed to reduce mobile phone use amongst drivers.

Dr Wells explains:

“Since the start of the year, we've been meeting people who are running projects aimed at preventing mobile phone use, including running education courses, theatre productions, and designing apps that prevent your mobile phone from working, and signs that flash to tell you to put your phone down. And of course, there is the important work of the police and enforcing the law in this area.

“But one thing we've learned from our project is that if you hope the law is going to solve all your problems, you're probably going to be sorely disappointed.”

The law relating to mobile phone use by drivers came out in 2003 - and phones have changed a lot since then.

Dr Wells adds:

“My phone in 2003 could make and receive calls and texts, but it couldn't do much else. It didn’t have a camera, it wasn’t internet-enabled - so no social media, no email.”

There are also questions about what type of ‘use’ the current law covers. Dr Wells explains:

“The 2003 law tells us it's illegal to 'use' a mobile phone whilst driving. But what does 'use' mean? 'Use' used to mean a fairly simple range of instructions. But now, does it include
touching your phone to change the direction on a sat nav? Does it include scrolling through your choice of music to change track?”

And though the 2003 law relates to phones being hand-held, research has shown that ‘hands-free’ use is as equally, cognitively distractive as using a hand-held mobile phone.

Dr Wells concludes that it would be better for drivers to consider what is safe, rather than what they can get away with in terms of the law around mobile phone use:

“We could spend our time Googling the finer points of the law, working out what we can get away with and what we can't. But, shouldn't we really be focussing on what's safe? The trouble with laws is it takes a long time to consult on them, draft them and get them passed into legislation. So they are never going to be a really good guide of what is safe and what isn't.

“So if we Google the finer points of the law, aren't we just researching legal rather than illegal ways to die?”


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