The proposed ban has drawn a mixed reaction. Some suggest it will make the roads safer, while others believe it will be impossible to enforce. What could it mean for your business?
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Many small business owners rely on their mobile phone to call clients and customers. This might mean that you take (and make) hands-free calls while driving, catching up on vital admin in the time it takes to get from place to place.
But now, a group of MPs has said that current laws give the “misleading impression” that hands-free calls are safe. They want to see a public consultation by the end of 2019, which will “explore options” for banning hands-free devices.
Is a ban a good idea? And what would the implications be for your business? Here are five reactions to the proposal – ranging from those in support of the idea to those who aren’t so sure.
1. “Your brain is doing things it shouldn’t be”
Talking on the phone while driving is incredibly dangerous, whether you're touching a phone with your hands or not. Your brain is what's doing things it shouldn't be, and you're really not as good at multitasking as you think you are. https://t.co/sTEPjksrEM— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) 13 August 2019
The House of Commons Transport Committee is suggesting the ban in its report, ‘Road Safety: driving while using a mobile phone’. It says that “research shows that using any mobile phone or other device while driving – whether hand-held or not – is a distraction that is detrimental to a driver’s ability to drive safely.”
Humans struggle with multitasking, as Katie Mack points out. The House of Commons Transport Committee says that drivers are much less aware of what’s happening on the road when they’re using a phone, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free. They also say that drivers fail to spot road signs, react more slowly, and fail to keep in the right lane position and steady speed.
A ban on hands-free devices (and enforcing that ban) could mean drivers become more focused on the task at hand, making roads across the UK safer.
2. But are current laws enforced?
The RAC has highlighted that lots of people still break the current law by using their mobiles in hand-held mode.
This is undoubtedly dangerous – as the House of Commons Transport Committee’s report claims, a driver using a phone (whether hand-held or hands-free) “is four times more likely to be involved in a collision.”
Gov.uk says that you “can get six penalty points and a £200 fine if you use a hand-held phone when driving” and that “you’ll also lose your licence if you passed your driving test in the last two years.” The law still applies if you’re stopped at traffic lights, queuing in traffic, or supervising a learner driver.
So, with tragic cases still regularly featuring in the news, should the government be doing more to tackle what’s still a widespread problem, rather than legislating further?
Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, thinks so: “Before outlawing hands-free phone use at the wheel we believe the Government should focus all its attention on enforcing the current law.”
He goes on to say that a reduced police force hasn’t helped the situation, and that technology could help enforce the law. But he also warned: “If hands-free use were to be banned then it could arguably be even harder to catch drivers in the act than it is now.”
3. There could be “a greater danger”
In a letter to The Telegraph, Ray Winstanley makes a point around in-car technology: “A greater danger is surely posed to road users by the multi-function screen found in most new cars, which requires eyes to be taken off the road to change the various settings.”
We’ve already written about how technology could actually be making roads more dangerous. As new vehicles increasingly rely on features like parking assistance and anti-lock braking technology, drivers could end up being distracted by extra lights and screens.
So, while these systems are designed to make roads safer, they may end up having the opposite effect. Are manufacturers taking driver distractions into account when designing new in-vehicle technology?
This morning I was on @BBCRadioKent talking about MPs' calls to ban hands-free mobile phones because they're dangerously distracting. But I'll tell you what's really distracting. This. The Tesla Model S sat-nav/info screen. Legislate this away if you want to boost concentration. pic.twitter.com/AbPhi3UMNQ— Giles Chapman (@ChapmanOnCars) 13 August 2019
4. Will a hands-free phone ban disrupt small businesses?
The BBC spoke to Kelvin Hardy, a small business owner who “inspects and maintains incinerators all over the country.”
His situation is similar to many of the businesses we insure – he runs his business on his own, without a secretary who would be able to handle calls and admin work.
He told the BBC: “I use a hands-free phone with voice recognition and I have to have one. I could get a call out to a job and then get another call telling me I’m not needed.”
He goes on to mention that he’d have to stop every hour to take calls if the ban came into force, which suggests there would potentially be significant disruption for small business owners all over the country.
The report from the House of Commons Transport Committee doesn’t appear to mention business impact, so we’d like to see any future public consultation tackle this too.
5. What about pedestrians?
A comment from ‘Andrew’ on the BBC’s article about a potential ban highlights the fact that phone use is a wider problem in society, extending to all road users – not just drivers.
While he suggests that a ban on all phone use while a vehicle in motion is the right call, he says that “to be balanced the dopey pedestrians who have their nose in a phone as they walk across a road oblivious to the world around them should have their phone confiscated and be banned from owning one.”
It’s a great point – it’s too easy to be distracted by your phone, whether you’re a driver, pedestrian or cyclist. And some cities in the US, like Honolulu in Hawaii and Montclair in California, have made it illegal to cross the street with your eyes glued to your phone.
If similar reforms were to be implemented here, questions around enforcement might remain. But maybe it’s ultimately about awareness – as Dr Shaun Helman told the House of Commons Transport Committee: “A whole generation of people are just starting to drive who have not known life without smartphones. We are sitting here talking about phones distracting people from driving. What they are interested in is the fact that driving is distracting them from using their smartphone.”
Extend that to phones distracting people from walking, or cycling, and it’s clear that a wider behavioural shift needs to happen – soon.
Making the public aware of the risks
Alongside legislative reform and enforcement, the House of Commons Transport Committee report recommends that the government does more to raise public awareness “about why using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous, not just that it is against the law.”
For now, the law will stay as it is. But with calls for a public consultation, more enforcement, plus education and legislative reform, we’ll keep you updated in future articles.
What do you think of the call to ban using hands-free phones while driving? Let us know in the comments below.