News article - 17 March 2020

Keele research helps police tackle drivers using mobile phones in cars

Keele criminologist Dr Helen Wells has launched a toolkit of resources to help police forces educate and enforce the law against mobile phone use by drivers.

The toolkit, funded by the Road Safety Trust, will be provided to police forces and partner organisations as part of the National Police Chiefs Council’s ‘Fatal 4’ campaign which will focus on the four main causes of road crashes: speeding, mobile phone use, drugs and alcohol, and failure to wear a seatbelt. The mobile phone focus of the campaign will run during March.

According to Think!, the government’s road safety education campaign, research has found that drivers using a hands-free or handheld mobile phone are four times more likely to be in a crash. Moreover, texting while driving can make a driver’s reaction time three times slower than that of a drink driver.

Dr Wells, from Keele University’s School of Social, Political and Global Studies, worked with Dr Gemma Briggs, a cognitive psychologist from the Open University, to produce a toolkit which includes 60 ‘drag and drop’ tweets with the campaign hashtag #StandingUpForHangingUp, a set of Frequently Asked Questions for police officers, an interactive flowchart to help inform charging decisions, and an updated version of Dr Wells’ compendium which was produced as part of her Mobile:Engaged project.

The resources are designed to help the police with enforcement, making confident charging decisions, and to provide guidance around communications work. The materials have been informed by Dr Wells’ research on road policing, which has included work with Highways England, police and crime commissioners, and various police forces.

Dr Wells said: “We have produced a range of materials that, based on our research, we believe will help police forces and partners to educate and enforce more effectively and in ways that are informed by the research on this topic.”

Dr Briggs added: “The work we have done to support the NPCC mobile phone enforcement campaign is centred on specific explanations for why phone use by drivers is dangerous, rather than simply telling drivers that they should not be doing it. We have taken an evidence-based approach to answering commonly asked questions about phone use by drivers, along with the objections that some people have to evidence which shows that handsfree phone use offers no safety benefit over handheld use.”

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