South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership
24 Feb 2022
I’m old enough to remember a time before mobile phones. Your discussion about what to have for tea had to wait until you got home. You managed fine without seeing a picture of what your best mate had for his breakfast. If you forgot to put an item on your shopping list, you went without it and bought it the next time you were at the shops. We didn’t miss having a mobile phone because we’d never known a time when we had one.

Today most of us wonder what we ever did without a mobile phone. Smart phones offer so many other functions than the first one I had 20 years ago. That’s great when it is enabling us to summon help in the event of an emergency, offer route planning for a journey, provide information about real time traffic conditions, as well as allowing us to keep people updated if we’re running late, so removing some of the stress we might feel due to being delayed. But what about the distraction it can pose because of the myriad of other functions that same mobile can offer, especially around keeping us connected with family and friends?

Unfortunately, many people find it hard to put down their phone when they get behind the wheel. One explanation for this, driven by the rise of social media, is what’s called the fear of missing out (or FOMO for short). This refers to the need to be constantly checking your phone to find out what your peers are posting; worried that you might fail to see the latest gossip or what your friends are up to. Research has found that ‘fear of missing out’ leaves many in the grip of an addiction to their devices.

At 30 mph a vehicle will travel 13.5 metres (45ft) every second. If it takes 5 seconds to read a social media post or a text, that means you will have driven 67.5 metres (221 ft or 16 car lengths) without having your eyes on the road. What if during this time, the car in front braked suddenly and you weren’t able to stop before hitting them? I bet your friends wouldn’t fear missing out on that experience, when you end up in the back of a police car, or worse an ambulance.

Using a mobile phone can also cause drivers to take their minds, as well as their eyes, off the road and the surrounding situation. This can have a serious impact on driving performance. Studies suggest that drivers using a mobile phone are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash than when a driver does not use a phone. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, we’re actually not good at multi tasking, so when we are driving and using our mobile phone at the same time at least one of those tasks is going to suffer. Watch the short clip on our website or test your multitasking skills with our interactive quiz

And don’t be mistaken that just because our hands are on the wheel and our eyes are on the road that hands-free is safe. If your mind is on your phone, you can fail to notice hazards that appear right in front of you.
You can get 6 penalty points and a £200 fine if you use a hand-held phone when driving. For new drivers, who passed their driving test within the last 2 years, that means you’ll also lose your licence if you are charged with using a hand held mobile.
Even if you are talking hands free, the Police can still stop you if they think you’re not in control because you’re distracted and you can be prosecuted.
So what can you do to curb that urge to use your phone when you are driving? Remove temptation and put your phone away before you set off. Let friends and family know you are going to be out of touch for a while because you want to focus on your driving. Or use your Do Not Disturb While Driving function on your phone. If you need to contact someone, do that before you leave or on long journeys plan in a rest stop along the way and check your phone when you are safely parked up. Or if you have a passenger, delegate tasks like changing the music, updating social media and navigation to them.

The increase in processing power we have in our phones, allowing us to undertake so many more transactions and functions, is almost difficult to comprehend. In a device that fits in the palm of our hands, we have considerably more technology than all of NASA when they sent men to the moon in 1969.

But with great power comes great responsibility. Use it wisely.

We have a duty, for the safety of ourselves and other road users, to know when we should put the phone down and not be distracted by it. This applies when we’re driving, or for that matter, walking. We need to keep our full attention on the road and focus on what is happening around us.  

Multi tasking is a myth. We shift our attention between tasks; so if our mind is on our phone, driving suffers. Concentrate on the activity that will get you to your destination alive.
Until next time, stay safe.