Saturday 3 November 2007

Mobile phone madness

So I went to Whitby last week. We were pootling down the slip road to the M1, I had reached a steady 60 and was lining up with a gap in the traffic on the inside lane of the main carriageway when the muddy blue vectra in front starts slowing down for no readily apparent reason.
After we have eventually joined the motorway, he decided that meandering over the carriageway and the hard shoulder is the way forward. As we pass him my passenger informs me that he is chatting away on his mobile phone.
Later on the A64 we passed a Jaguar wasn't swooshing along in a typical Jag fashion, it turns out that yet again the driver had a phone clapped to their ear.
So making it illegal and offering up legal punishments doesn't work.
Pointing out that there is plenty of scientific evidence that it affects concentration and causes fatal crashes doesn't work.
So they should all go and buy a copy of How to Fossilise Your Hamster: And 99 Other Experiments to Try at Home on page 97 there is a starkly simple experiment using a yardstick to demonstrate how holding a telephone conversation affects reaction time.
So what do I think? Even hands free kits should be off limits! The actual act of holding a phone to your ear doesn't make matters that much worse, it is the conversation that is the killer. How is this different from talking to someone in the car? Well mostly it isn't but when the chips are down and the driver needs to concentrate, the people in the car can see what is going on.


Anonymous said...

"So making it illegal and offering up legal punishments doesn't work."

I don't believe you. Just because there are some people who break a new law, that doesn't mean that the law doesn't work.

For a similar example, look at when it became mandatory to wear a seatbelt if it were fitted in the early '80s. The week, month and year after it became illegal not to wear a seatbelt, and even now, I'm sure you could still find plenty of examples of people still not wearing them. Does that mean that the seatbelt law didn't work? Or that lots of people who didn't used to wear seatbelts didn't start to wear them in the future? Of course not.

I think the same can be said for mobile phones in cars. The number of people using mobile phones has probably dropped, making the roads safer. I think, as time goes on and this rule becomes more ingrained in society, the number of people using mobile phones will continue to drop, making the roads safer still.

Yes, there are still some idiots out there who will flaunt any law and put themselves and others at risk. There always will be. That doesn't mean that making laws is pointless, or that we should only make laws we can guarantee are 100% enforceable.

As for hands-free kits, I think making them illegal would make the problem worse.

As horrible and cliched as it sounds, we are in a society where people expect, and are expected, to be "connected" in some way nearly all the time. I think people will increasingly want to use their phones in cars, and that making hands-free kits illegal will probably make the number of people clamping a phone to their ear with one hand go *up*, making the roads more dangerous.

(And if you've got any online references to support "The actual act of holding a phone to your ear doesn't make matters that much worse" then I'd be interested in seeing that.)


Tony said...

It hasn't worked for these people, they are still doing it aren't they?
I don't have the original research but some reporting on two studies from the Guardian and the New England Journal of Medicine
Even the UK government site on road safety says "The use of a hands-free phone or other equipment is not specifically prohibited because it is difficult for police to see it in use"

Anonymous said...

"It hasn't worked for these people, they are still doing it aren't they?"

It depends on what your definition of a law "working" is. Does it really have to deter everyone, or catch 100% of transgressers in order to "work"?

The law does make people who drive and no longer use a handset while driving safer because they're less likely to crash. It also makes other road users and bystanders safer if there are significantly fewer muppets driving round using handsets.

OK, there are some people who still use a handset while driving, so you could say that the law doesn't work *for them*, and you can say that it doesn't *completely* eliminate the threat they pose to other road users.

But (continuing the seatbelt law analogy here and extending it to car insurance) there are still some people who do not wear a seatbelt, and some who drive without insurance. So you could argue, similarly, that the seatbelt laws and mandatory insurance laws also do not work *for those people*. But are you really saying that those laws do not work *for society*? That they do not make *society* safer?

I think that's the test of whether a law "works" or not - the effect it has on society as a whole.

This law might not deter every potential offender, or mean that 100% of those that break the law get caught, but which law does? I just don't think you can point at the fact that you saw a few people breaking it and say it "doesn't work".


Tony said...

You are approaching this from the other direction to me, I was listing the things that hadn't worked on these people, not commenting on how well the law had worked for society as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so you're looking to create a 100% effective deterrent for this crime, or make sure the police can catch 100% of the people who break this law. With a 0% false-positive count, naturally.

OK. Good luck with that.

Tony said...

Yes that is exactly it, no harm in aiming high is there. Adam was concentrating on the law, I was just after anything that would get the message across. If research suggests that it is as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol, perhaps we need TV and poster campaigns with as brutal a set of imagery as was used to cut drink driving.