Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"The line is busy..."

At the moment it seems that hardly a day goes by without more rules, more bans, less freedom.

Today new legislation comes in that will increase the punishments for using a hand held mobile telephone while driving. We know that using a phone while driving drastically compromises a driver's concentration and dramatically increases the chances of an accident- indeed the chances are roughly comparable with the accident rate of drink driving. The trouble is that this is also true for hands free phone use too- which stays legal, for now.

Meanwhile in fact pedestrians suffer the same impairment of concentration, so presumably the same problems. Perhaps they might step into the road and get hurt? Shouldn't we prevent harm and ban mobile phone use unless people are in fact not mobile, but stationary? After all that is the logic of the legislation.

It is an absurd logic.

If the risks of mobile phone use are so high, then their use should be restricted unless the vehicle is stationary, because a car accident usually causes harm to other people. As far as any other restrictions on pedestrians are concerned- the risks of hurting others are much lower, so if you are prepared to take the consequences, then take the risk: and of course the state has nothing to say about this.


Tom Papworth said...

An interesting alternative to all this would be to deal with the real offence (killing or maiming another road user) rather than the preliminary condition (drinking or using a phone).

The current law is clear: if a person causes an accident and is driving without due care and attention (i.e. chatting on the phone, singing to themselves in a drunken stupor) then they have broken the law and should be jailed.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Cicero, a distracted driver trying to text someone can run over a dozen people at a bus shelter. A guy texting while walking can what, walk into a phone box? Different consequences, different laws.

Tristan said...

Tom's idea has merit.

Then of course drink driving would technically be legal, but driving without due care and attention would be illegal, and since drinking leads to that you would be committing a crime by doing it.

With mobile phones, all that would be needed is some case law to say that if on the mobile phone you are not paying enough attention to driving and therefore committing a crime.

rk said...

The problem with banning mobile phones is that the logic leads us into nonsense laws all to quickly.

The principal 'danger' of the mobile phone is not the act of handling the phone but the loss of concentration while the user engages in conversationm, as shown by the demonstration that 'hands free' are equally as dangerous. Surely then the phone part is irrelevant and actually it is ALL conversations with the driver that should be banned. New cars should fitted with perspex soundproof shields around the driver so that passengers, especially children in the back, cannot distract the driver. The Car Radio and CD player shall only be accessible and audile to the passengers and not to the driver. Acutally the shield should not be perspex but opaque. After all the passengers may attempt to evily distract the driver with sign language or maps.

What nonsense. I'm with Tom on this. If someone is stupid enough to crash while trying to read a text then you punish the crime of the dangerous driving. Adults capable of holding a conversation with a passenger or listening to the Radio while driving should be allowed to do so.

James said...

Yep- Tom's approach is the one that I would run with too.

James said...

I'm afraid Cicero that I parts ways with you on this one. People talking on their mobile phones whilst driving are an infinately greater danger to themselves and other people than a pedestrian. Common sense and the laws of physics dictate that this must be the case.

Highwaylass said...

The offence Tom has at the back of his mind is, I think, not "driving without due care" but "failing to be in proper control of a vehicle." This is the law which allows police to prosecute blokes shaving, girls putting on their make up, the various "but I was only eating my apple/sandwich/pasty" people who go straight to the press, people with nasty yappy dogs leaping around, and school run mums reading Ciabbata's end of term report instead of concentrating. And, of course, people talking on hands-free phones.

Driving is difficult. It requires concentration. You don't see bikers chatting on the phone or doing their make-up, because we know that if we stop concentrating we'll probably die.

RK - tests in the US have shown that there is a different level of distratction between talking on a phone and talking to a passenger. The passenger is part of the journey and instictively shuts up when the driver is doing complex tasks. The person on the other end of the phone doesn't.

AverageEarthman said...

The problem is that many people think someone else has a problem, not them. Oh, *other* people can't drive and hold a conversation at the same time, but *I'm* fine.

The problem is that they're not. They just think they are.

So punishing those who cause the accidents isn't going to prevent them, as people think it won't happen to them. It then just becomes punishment after the case for the sake of revenge.

rk said...

I'm sure kids in the back don't instinctively shut up when required, neither does the radio.

Andyt said...

Another thing - a driver may swerve to avoid a careless pedestrian and into the path of oncoming traffic, causing just as much carnage. Food for thought?

rk said...

Highwaylass, I think you're wrong. I went googling for your research and found some contradictory papers. For example there is this study (http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/distraction.pdf), that aimed to define driver distractions that lead to crashes in the US. It shows that crash causing distractions by passengers are approximately seven times more common than those from phones.

Given that passengers in that case included babies I carried on looking and found this study from 1991 “The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention” by James McKnight, A. Scott McKnight, National Public Services Research Institute which stated that:
“While a cellular telephone conversation is no more distracting than a conversation of the same intensity with a passenger, the availability of a cellular phone is almost certain to increase significantly the number of conversations in general and the more distracting, intense, business conversation in particular”

But I think this last one was the real clincher. Find the 2004 report here http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=16531078 that specifically compared passenger conversations with phone conversations. In the abstract they conclude that:
“Contrary to what some researchers have assumed, there was little practical evidence that passengers adjusted their conversations to changes in the traffic environment”

In the interests of fair play I should say that I also found a reference to a 2002 paper that showed “talking on a mobile phone is more distracting than holding an intelligent conversation with a passenger but no more distracting than eating a cheeseburger”. But all I found was an indirect reference and not the paper itself. Also as this research predates the study of 2004 specifically designed to look at this question I think it fair to say that you cannot state that mobile phones are more dangerous than passengers.

In all the research papers that looked at the causes of accidents passengers were always listed as a bigger source of distraction than mobile phones. The self-modulating behaviour you predict may be true in some cases but you cannot hang up on a passenger that’s annoying you!

If we as a society judge that phones are just too dangerous to be used by drivers then, taking the above reports, we should also ban eating, drinking, air conditioning, CD players, radios and passengers from our cars.

Highwaylass said...

Thanks for those references, rk - I will follow them up, especially the 2004 paper.

As I mentioned before - following the shining example of bikers looks like the only sensible solution.

Soundproof helmets for anyone in charge of a vehicle it is, then! :)