Red, amber, phone!
Today, I heard a worrying tale about a woman who thought it was OK to use her phone when she was stopped at traffic lights. She did this so often that, when the police caught up with her, she blurted out: ‘But, I’ve often made calls at traffic lights and it’s never been a problem before.’ This is one of those classic road safety misunderstandings. Let’s look at the rule, which says that:
You must not use a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device, when driving or when supervising a learner driver, except to call a genuine emergency when it is unsafe or impractical to stop.
So far, so good, but the woman in our story was not driving, was she? Well yes, actually, she was. Plenty of people think it’s ok to use a mobile phone if the car they’re driving is stuck in a queue or has stopped at traffic lights, but that’s not true. It’s still illegal, and it could still land you in a lot of trouble. Remember, the law applies whether you’ve stopped or you’re moving. Unless you’re parked in a safe place with the engine switched off, if you use your mobile in the car you’re breaking the law!
Think about the damage you could cause when your phone distracts you. Even if you take nothing else away from these articles, just stop and think about how much it could damage your future if mishaps happen using your phone. That’s pretty bad, but it gets a whole lot worse if you’ve only passed your test in the past years. Do you want to go through all that again? And how are you going to explain to your friends, your employer, or your parents that you had an accident or killed someone – possibly a child – because you did not have the self-control to leave your phone alone?
Put it away
To make sure it never happens, make this your golden rule: whenever you get in your car, put it somewhere that you cannot see or reach for it. It does not matter where – glove box, coat pocket, boot – as long as it’s out of the way. You really can wait for that call or text – it’s not worth the hassle, or the guilt and consequences if you kill or injure another road user through distracted driving.
The riskiest behaviour
Drive Zimbabwe Roadside Assistance Direct research earlier this year found the main reason people use their phones while driving is because they feel safe and capable of doing so. They checked their phones at traffic lights because they thought being stationary made it safe. We asked experts in the country to compare mobile phone use with four other risk factors: speeding, fatigue, smoking marihuana, or three alcoholic drinks. They ranked the risk of a crash on a scale where higher numbers mean more risk.
The riskiest behaviour was holding a phone and looking at the screen for more than 2 seconds. For under 26s:
· Holding the phone and looking at the screen for 2+ secs was 3.8 times riskier (3.5 for age 26+)
· Fatigue was 3.6 times riskier (3.7 for age 26+)
· Driving after three alcoholic drinks were 3.4 times riskier (3.2 for age 26+).
The question is what causes young people to keep using their phones while driving?
Some experts believe it is “phone addiction”: the driver can’t leave it alone. Most young drivers are making an effort to stop using their mobiles and more than half in this study said they never use them illegally. They were more likely to use their phones if they saw their parents doing it. They also had different ideas on what “using your phone” means while driving. Drivers over 26 were less likely than those under 26 to use their phones illegally.
Sitting at traffic lights
As in our Direct study, sitting at traffic lights or in heavy traffic seems to act as a signal to change the rules. At traffic lights:
· 82% use entertainment or relaxation apps (74% in moving traffic)
· 75% of young drivers call or text (59% in moving traffic)
· 24% use social media.
Even in moving traffic, this type of phone use was still worryingly high. Young drivers are much more likely than those over 26 (74% v 41%) to hold their phones in moving traffic to use apps for entertainment or relaxation.
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