Phoning it in
News that the Department for Transport has opened a public consultation on the possibility of increasing penalties for using a hand-held phone while driving has left me scratching my head in puzzlement. Surely it’s not the size of the fine and the number of points which is proving a lack of deterrent to offenders, but the fact there’s hardly any traffic officers left to enforce the law? The chances of being observed and caught remain slim, and therefore people will continue to flout the rules.
These idiots don’t recognise the distraction element; don’t realise their speed rises and falls during a call, how they often change lane without looking, and don’t appreciate the distance they travel while they take their eyes from road to mobile, be that to see who is calling, or to answer a text. They are arrogant enough to think they will never cause a serious accident through their inattention. Sadly the only things which might get their attention are a loud siren, and a blue light with a uniform on the end of it.
My own view is that you’d have to increase the inconvenience to a massive degree before the revised penalty would have any effect – say a one month instant ban, or nine points. Monetary penalties differ in their nuisance value depending on personal circumstances, whereas an instant inability to use the car for a month has immediate consequences for most.
However, I’m not a fan of the idea of a two-tier penalty system as recently mooted by the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead official on road policing, either. In fact, I’m not enamoured of any system which expects British businesses to fund and promote a stricter set of road rules for company drivers than for private ones. Not when it involves using duty of care as some kind of threat, anyway. Don’t get me wrong; as businesses we have a duty of care to our employees, we know we have to spend money embracing compliance, be that by written policy or additional training – but don’t then penalise us more heavily when the driver still flouts the law. If the crime is the same, then it must be one rule for all.
I would rather the DfT focussed its efforts on a complete ban on any phone use whilst driving – by which I mean no calls, no texting, no email. Research suggests one is four times more likely to crash using any phone behind the wheel. To me that likelihood appears even greater when I observe a driver using the phone to text or email, since their eyes are completely off the road for an extended period of time, during which they have no idea what is going on around them.
I would also like, as I’ve said many times before, more public service advertising on TV at peak times, so that the private motorist is exposed to some of the messages we feed our company drivers, on a regular basis. Reminders about the dangers of mobile use on the move would be at the top of my list.
And in the absence of sufficient traffic police, how about enabling all those Highways Traffic Officers to take on the extra duty of being allowed to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for mobile phone use, when not otherwise engaged? Their presence on the road does act as a deterrent to speeding, as drivers try to figure out if the liveried vehicle in front is a real cop or not. If they were able to issue PCNs for phone use, I believe the deterrent would become stronger. Feeling radical, how about they can issue a PCN without stopping the driver, provided photographic evidence is available?
Given that 75% of us admit to getting wound up by others’ poor driving skills, with mobile phone use being at the top of the list, if the law were properly enforced, we would all stress a little less, travel happier. Time for bold action, but perhaps not in the direction DfT is currently heading.