London, 24 Jan 2000.
For immediate release.

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Press Release

Government Mobile Phone Campaign Nearly Right
The Government have recently announced a campaign to encourage drivers to switch off mobile phones whilst on the move.
It is good news that the Government has at last recognised that there is more to road safety than speed and alcohol, and particularly welcome that they have chosen an issue that can reduce a driverís attention, observation and perception - the long neglected keys to improving road safety.

Road Safety Minister Lord Whitty has also done well to resist calls to make using phones at the wheel an absolute offence. On Radio 4 (21 January) he said that the police already had the power to prosecute for driving without due care and attention when phone use impaired driving, and that a law against phone use was therefore not the right way to proceed under British law. Also, it would divert attention onto the act of using a phone and away from other possible causes of distraction leading to careless driving.

But ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries said: "Having got so much right, it is a pity that the actual campaign has missed the mark, having already caused controversy. To suggest that people should switch off the phone as soon as they get in the car is unrealistic and likely to result in the message being ignored. They should be telling people how to use their phones safely whilst driving rather than attempting to stop them altogether."

Additional points of concern are:

"The bottom line is this," continues Humphries. "A driver must not allow himself to be distracted from the road by anything going on within the car - whether that be a passenger, an item of luggage, bickering children or a phone call. This discipline is essential for safe driving and must be encouraged in the population at every opportunity."

Those for whom the process of safe driving has become second nature are quite capable of using a phone safely whilst driving. They automatically continue to observe and respond to hazards correctly whilst holding a conversation. If they need to take their eyes off the road for a split second, whether to check their instruments or to press a button on any of the high tech gadgets which have found their way into a car, they know when it is safe to do so and when not.

It is those who cannot do this who are likely to be distracted by any number of things within the car. These people need sound advice help them improve their skills, and the Government should be giving them this instead of a blanket "donít do it".

If they allow their driving to be impaired by distractions, they should be identified by the police and required to undertake additional training or, in extreme circumstances, prosecuted for careless driving.

An ABD member who is a former police officer, as well has holding advanced driving qualifications for both cars and HGVís, comments thus:

"The problem arises when the phone call comes first. I have used phones, CB's and police radios whilst driving, and held animated conversations with passengers whilst on the move (including with IAM examiners whilst on test). However, the driving came first, and I will stop talking and put the device down (if necessary dropping it - I broke the case on my CB mike because I dropped it) if something happens which demands my attention. I have been with Police Class 1 drivers at high speed when they've been using the radio, and felt perfectly safe, because I know that the driving comes first.

I've also seen the other sort, the ones where the phone call comes first and the driving comes a very poor second. I've seen them batting down lane 3 at 90mph (nothing wrong with that in itself) with the phone tucked under their ear and writing on a pad. I've seen them changing gear with their right hands because the left hand has been holding the phone (God knows what they were steering with!). And, of course, their brains were almost entirely given over to the phone call, with very little left for driving. I've also seen people driving along so engrossed in talking to their passengers that they have no idea what's happening around them. Some will even turn to look at their passengers. These are just as dangerous as phone users.

I think that phones (especially hands-free) are OK as long as the driving comes first. I would oppose any prosecutions simply for using a phone, but support any for dangerous driving/due care where someone's control of his vehicle was clearly impaired."


Notes for Editors

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