So the fine for using a handheld mobile hone while driving will be increasing from £60 to £90. Apparently the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is getting tough and cracking down on drivers, saying,
“We want to send a clear message to dangerous drivers: If you continue to show complete disregard for the safety of other road users, we will catch you – and we will punish you.”
Around 3-5% of the drivers you see on the road will be in the middle of making a phone call, or texting – that’s somewhere between one in thirty and one in twenty of the cars that pass you.
About half of those will be hands-free, and half, with the phone clamped to the side of their heads (other options include using the speakerphone & holding it in front of your chin, or for texting, holding the phone in your lap).
According to the RAC Foundation, 48% of drivers aged 18-24 admit to sending or receiving texts while driving.
But we all have more time-pressured lifestyles these days. Couple that with the fact that people are obviously much better at multi-tasking (‘cos, like, we do it all the time), you could be tempted to ask what the real purpose of this “crackdown” is. Indeed, many readers of the Daily Mail’s article on it suggest that it’s just another stealth-tax for the gummint to pick the pockets of the already hard-pressed motorist.
So basically, using a hands-free mobile phone (completely legal in the UK) has twice the effect of being at the legal drink-driving limit; texting (illegal) has three times the effect; and a hand-held phone (illegal) has almost four times the effect.
The penalties for drink driving are severe:
- Being in charge of a vehicle (i.e. sitting in it and holding the keys in your hand) while unfit through drink: Up to three months in prison; £2,500 fine; possible driving ban
- Driving or even just attempting to drive (i.e. putting the key in the ignition): Up to six months in prison; £5,000 fine; driving ban of at least a year.
In that context, the minister’s “crackdown” on people using the phone seems like pretty small beer – more like there’s a war on teh drinks industry than on the motorist in general.
Using a phone relieves the boredom of driving (distracting us from what we actually should be doing), and re-enforces our sense of importance. Culturally we’ve brainwashed ourselves into thinking that using a mobile phone and being in constant contact is essential for our modern lives. This plainly isn’t the case, and if anything means we’re putting the lives of others at risk.
So what would a genuine crackdown look like?
- The same penalties as drink driving?
- Increase the penalty to six points, effectively making it two strikes and you’re out?
- Incremental bans? Start at one week for the first offence (no hardship defence for this – just take a week’s holiday), but then eight for the second, a year for the third, etc?