Far from making cars safer, some say modern car tech and especially mobile phone use is actually making for more motoring related incidents. Cases such as the lorry driver being sentenced to ten years in prison for running into a car and killing all four occupants, while using his mobile phone, has highlighted again the perils of getting distracted whilst driving.
It’s been illegal to use a mobile phone hand held since December 2003. Drivers can use a phone hands-free, such as when using a Bluetooth headset or speakerphone, operating a sat nav or a two-way radio, but the police could prosecute if they felt the motorist was distracted and not in total control of their vehicle.
Unfortunately, many still flout the law. There’s no real excuse not to use Bluetooth and other hands free technology; it’s often either standard equipment or a low priced option on many new cars available. Bluetooth headsets and earpieces are available as inexpensive choices after market accessories.
The rise of smartphones means people spend more time interacting with their phones than previously when all you could previously do on mobiles was make calls or text. Nowadays, someone driving could be using their phone as a sat nav, a music player and more.
In the case of the lorry driver incident discussed above, he was found to be scrolling through music selections on his mobile at the time of the fatal collision.
Not just mobile phones causing distractions
Other distractions can vie for the attention motorists are supposed to be giving the road and traffic. More car tech means more controls to operate, and more visual aids such as touchscreens can divert attention. Even a few seconds spent peering at a touchscreen display and not the road ahead could result in an incident as it only takes a very short while for something to happen on the road ahead, such as a car braking abruptly.
There are also more distractions outside the car; the RAC say there are twice as many road signs as there were 20 years ago making for far more information to assimilate. Roads are also becoming more crowded with vehicle numbers rising by nearly 50% over the same time frame.
The European Commission say some 10%-30% of traffic accidents throughout Europe are caused by distraction.
What can be done?
Some say the use of mobile phones should be banned altogether in cars as even just having an engaging conversation can take attention away from the driving. Encouraging car makers to contribute by deploying some type of ‘drive safe’ mode (similar to flight mode) would be difficult as one manufacturer wouldn’t want to disable mobiles if others didn't as a loss in sales might result.
The penalties for using mobiles while driving are likely to increase sharply in a bid to shift attitudes similar to how tougher measures caused people to wear seat belts in the 70s and 80s. The AA say high profile advertising campaigns are needed to reinforce the message.
A rethink of car controls and a general move back to physical controls has been suggested as it’s less distracting at times for people to rely on touch rather than visual cues, such as touchscreens. Whether manufacturers would take these steps remains to be seen.
Ultimately, it’s a case of reinforcing the message of how dangerous distractions at the wheel can be. A difficult task when modern vehicles make us feel more cosseted on the road.