Against a backdrop in Britain last year of 22 people having been killed and 99 more seriously injured in road accidents in which drivers were using a mobile phone, much tougher penalties came into force in England, Scotland and Wales last month.
For example, newly qualified drivers will now lose their licence if caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel.
Illegal mobile phone use by motorists is increasing and now penalty points and fines for using a phone while driving have doubled, to six points and £200. It is a strong deterrent to what one motoring organisation described as an “epidemic” on the roads.
In Britain, drivers can have their licences revoked if they accrue six points within two years of passing their test. Those caught using their mobile twice, or who accrue 12 points on their licence, will face magistrates’ court, disqualification and fines of up to £1,000.
Mobile phone use behind the wheel also continues to be a significant problem on Ireland’s roads and we should consider following Britain and doubling our penalty points and fines for this offence. Currently, this offence leads to three penalty points (half that in Britain ) and an €80 fine (a third of that in Britain after taking the exchange rate into account ).
A new survey of Irish motorists reveals that nearly half of drivers (46 per cent ) would support the introduction of technology to disable certain phone functions for the sake of safety.
More than one in four respondents (26 per cent ) felt some form of blocking device would be more effective at deterring mobile phone use than the introduction of harsher penalties.
The survey of Irish motorists for Continental Tyres’ Vision Zero initiative, a commitment to reduce road fatalities worldwide, also highlighted that more than half of drivers (54 percent ) admit to regularly using their mobile phone while behind the wheel.
Some other key findings from the survey include: More than one third (36 per cent ) of respondents feel that mobile phone use is ‘normalised’ as so many people are doing it;
Also, that 23 per cent of drivers say they find it difficult to be disconnected from their mobiles for any length of time; And that 62 per cent feel it is OK to use a phone in stopped or slow moving traffic versus 22 per cent who said it is illegal to use a phone in any traffic situation
In terms of the main activity that drivers engage in on their phones while behind the wheel, making/ receiving calls, and texting are still the most common activities.
Nearly two thirds or 64 per cent of those who admit to using a phone behind the wheel say this is their most regular activity on the phone. However, with the recent rise in the popularity of smart phones, nearly half, 49 percent of drivers say they regularly use their phone for accessing their social media profiles while driving.
Head of Continental Tyres Ireland, Tom Dennigan, said research revealed drivers knew that use of phones was illegal, distracting and dangerous, yet it was clear many of them cannot help themselves.
“Nearly one in four, 23 per cent, told us they struggle to be digitally disconnected and 36 per cent felt that so many people now checked their mobile in traffic that the practice has become normalised.”
In addition to the need to improve motorists’ behaviour, it is apparent that there is a strong desire for technology to help deliver the solution and enhance road safety. Nearly a half of drivers, 46 per cent think the Government should enforce a device to disable web-browsing, emails and the ability to send and receive texts.
Professor John Groeger, a specialist in driver psychology and author of Sharing the Driving for Continental Tyres said it was interesting motorists wanted an enforced solution rather than to curb their own behaviour – yet there was no such system currently available.
“It is imperative we find a way to resolve this as the ‘switch cost’ - the critical time it takes us to shift our concentration from a task like reading a text to again fully engaging in driving is so important in reducing accidents.”
Tom Dennigan of Continental Tyres added: “There are enormous strides being made in autonomous vehicle technology to deliver even greater safety.
“Yet our study identifies that we are unsure about allowing cars to take even more control of driving. But when we recognise our obvious failing in relation to the use of phones, nearly half of us want technology to step up and save us from ourselves.
“It points to the fascinating, probably unique, relationship we have with our cars and how the development of technologies is reshaping that.”