Phone driving ban article ‘flippant and hostile’

Stats spat

Letters A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. Joseph Stalin


"Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), knows for sure that since 1998, there have been 20 deaths on Britain's roads involving mobile phones. Of these, two involved hands-free phones. Neither figure sounds particularly high, does it, considering the numbers of people who use their mobile phones while driving? But a RoSPA spokeswoman says the numbers could be the "tip of the iceberg" as the cause of accidents isn't systematically recorded."

Mobile phone driving ban comes into force

Our article heralding the UK debut of the ban on mobile phones while driving provoked a small but strongly felt response for our "flippant" and "hostile tone".

It is a matter of commonsense that using mobile phones while driving is more dangerous than not using mobile phones. But a proper risk assessment could well conclude that there are many more practices and conditions and people which should be banned. Here's two, for starters:

Using mobile phones while driving may not be much more dangerous than driving if your brain is infected with toxoplasmosis according to this 2002 report, which finds that you are two to three times more likely to be involved in a car crash than unaffected individuals.

One in three Brits, One in two Americans and eight out of ten French (undercooked meat is the usual point of entry) have toxoplasmosis, a parasitical disease which slows down the responses of its hosts and which is thought to change the behaviour of the infected so that they engage in more risky practices. Should we screen people for toxoplasma, and stop positives from getting behind the wheel?

And what about smoking? It is a matter of commonsense too that smoking while driving could be dangerous. Getting the cigarette packet out of the pocket, or worse, (as my father used to do) rolling a cigarette at the wheel while driving, getting the lighter, dropping the cigarette etc.- all these distract attention from the road.

So beware the smoking toxoplasmosis sufferer!

Finally, On a personal note, I have been run over twice by cars, the first time my fault, the second the fault of two careless drivers. Neither accident involved mobile phones, but maybe that's because they were a very long time ago.

Now for some slaps on the wrist from our readers:

I'm sorry to have to do this, but I feel I ought to complain about your article concerning the new ban on some mobile phone use while driving:

The tone is too flippant, particularly the bit about pedestrians crossing the road. 3,400 road deaths is 3,400 too many. When there is a major rail crash, there's major uproar about the e.g. 22 people who died, and blame is thrown around. While the 22 deaths is still too many, does the grief and suffering of the families of road accidents weigh any less, because the large total is made up of many small incidents? Someone I know is facing a possible prison sentence for killing someone by just going a bit too fast round a corner, so I also know what it's like to be on the other side - the guilt and regret.

Banning hand-held mobile phone conversations while driving seems a very reasonable way of reducing death and injury on our roads. It's not the total answer, for sure, but it's part of it.

I know, and usually appreciate the fact, that the Register is an ironic or humorous site, but I think this article was not up to your usual standards.

Bob Salmon

Dear Reg,

I was shocked at the light-hearted approach of John Leyden to the ban on mobile phones whilst driving. Having been in a fair few vehicles, whilst the driver has attempted to drive and use the phone at the same time, or even worse, trying to type/read SMS messages, I am all too happy to see the end of non-hands-free phone use in cars.

Having been a passenger in cars which have mounted the central reservation or drifted across 2 lanes and the hard shoulder while the driver was distracted with a phone call or SMS, I wouldn't mind a total ban. However, that would be impractical for a lot of people.

Some drivers can't even manage a hands-free system, but that is another matter. A similar ban has been in effect here in Germany for over a year, and even using a phone with a headset is not allowed, it must be a permanently installed hands-free system. I still see a lot of people here using their phones normally here, but the fines are fairly stiff if you are caught.

Personally, I use the phone only when stuck in a traffic jam to advise a customer or friend that I will be running late. Most service providers give the account an automatic voicemail box for when the user can't get to the phone, why don't people use it?

There is a very good advert on the billboards by the side of the road here with a driver with a cigarette in one hand, a sandwich in the other and his phone cupped in his shoulder. The slogan reads "and whose driving?"

Of course 'phones aren't the only problem, the number of people I've seen on the M25 putting on make-up, shaving, typing into laptops on the passenger seat or reading the newspaper is frightening. And as for the woman who ran my brother off the road, when he caught up with her and managed to pull her over, she was totally unaware that she had nearly caused an accident. Her excuse? "How can I be expected to keep an eye on the road with 3 kids in the back?" Personally I would say it is all the MORE reason to keep an eye on the road, but hey, that's just me...

I'm no fan of stealth taxing, most speed cameras, for example, seem not to be in areas of heightened danger, but in this case, if it helps save one life, it is worth a couple of million in the governments coffers.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen

David Wright

It disturbed me rather to read the hostile and complacent tone of the article by John Leyden on the new mobile phone legislation.

It is not hard to imagine why there are only 20 CONFIRMED cases of death caused by mobile phone use since 1988. You're not going to get many drivers who have just killed someone owning up the fact that they were on the phone, are you? How often are networks' records checked after fatal road accidents, and how accurately can you establish the time of the accident to prove that a phone was in use? And how do you prove it was in use by the driver of the vehicle, not a passenger? So no wonder "neither figure sounds particularly high, does it?" Do some proper research and find these things out, rather than putting far too much emphasis on an almost pointless statistic.

To suggest that pedestrians should not use mobile phones either is so silly as to smack of desperation at the lack of a sensible argument. Who is almost certain to come off worse in an accident between a car and a pedestrian?

Oh, and to wheel out the tired old mantra that it is yet another "stealth tax" against the poor beleagured motorist doesn't wash either. Speed cameras are semi-and can be completely automatic; to be fined for mobile phone usage requires human intervention from an expensive police patrol. If this is merely a stealth tax, then how come so many other countries are also introducing a ban? Are all their governments as good as ours at hoodwinking their electorates? And how many phone usage fine profit margins cover the financial cost to society of a death?

Of course hands-free conversations are as distracting as those made with hand-held phones. That is why the legislation does not exempt those using hands-free kits from prosecution also, contrary to the implication in the article. But the obvious difference with a hand-held phone is that the driver also becomes physically disabled: unable to use the hand that is holding the phone.

I am a motorcyclist; and no, this is not sour grapes just because I cannot easily use a mobile phone on a motorcycle. (On the occasions when I drive, I wouldn't think of using one.) On my daily commute, I have seen so many instances of bad driving by mobile phone users, from never indicating to slewing all over the road, that it is beyond all doubt that drivers using mobile phones are a menace. Reaction times can be as poor as when driving over the legal alcohol limit, and it is high time that society's attitudes towards this selfish, unnecessary and dangerous behaviour changed to correspond.

Matthew Marks

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