Brake charity calls for a ban on car hands-free phones

By Tanya Waterworth

This week the charity Brake is asking motorists to consider the amount of distractions they allow into the car with them when they are behind the wheel, and challenging drivers to 'tune in' to the road ahead of them.

One of their recommendations to improve road safety is to introduce a ban on car hands-free phones. Research has found that a driver speaking on a hands-free phone has reduced ability in terms of their awareness of hazards, and their ability to control their speed. A video of a test to show how driving ability is impaired while talking on a hands-free phone can be viewed on the BBC website by clicking here.

Separate research suggests that 98 per cent of drivers are incapable of performing some other task, such as eating or talking on a hands-free phone, without their driving ability being affected.

Brake is also calling for larger fine for people caught using their phone while at the wheel, suggesting it be increased from the current £100 to somewhere between £500 and £1000 to act as a stronger deterrent. Over half a million people in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK have active penalty points on their licence as a result of using a phone or being distracted in some other way while driving.

Deputy chief executive of Brake, Julie Townsend, said that people "who wouldn't dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and the consequences just as horrific."

The government has said they have no plans to ban car hands-free phones, and there has been quite a large public reaction to the proposal. Some are in favour of it saying that we have in general become obsessed with being in contact at all times, and would rather see a text when it arrives than wait 5 minutes until we reach the end of our car journey. They say the risks of thousands of motorists on our roads with reduced concentration are too severe to ignore the science on distracted driving.

Those who have come out against the proposal query how talking on a hands-free is any different from talking to a passenger, with others saying motorists are continually being blamed for road accidents that pedestrians and cyclists could help avoid if they had more care. It is worth noting that speaking with a passenger in the car is said by researches to be less distracting because the passenger is 'context aware' - they know to stop talking if you are carrying out a tricky manoeuvre or can see that your attention needs to be on the road, for example, as you pull out to join a fast moving lane. The person you are talking to on the phone is not aware of such things and will carry their conversation on at the same pace and intensity throughout the duration of the call.

Wilson Nesbitt is proud to sponsor Brake's National Road Safety Week in Northern Ireland, and we encourage all our clients to 'tune-in' to the road when they are behind the wheel.