A report highlighting a rise in death toll and casualties could be evidence to support an extension of the ban on using mobile phones while driving, but what does industry think? 

The government is being urged by members of parliament (MP) to consider banning hands-free mobile phone use whilst driving in a bid to prevent “entirely avoidable” road deaths.

A report released today by the Commons Transport Committee (CTC), “Road Safety: driving while using a mobile phone,” noted that in 2017 there were 773 casualties – this includes 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries caused by collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributing factor.

It is calling for tougher penalties, recommending that the ban on using a mobile phone whilst driving be extended to hands-free also. It has also urged government to work with the police to enforce this should it go ahead.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) along with others in the industry have welcomed the consideration. 

Laurenz Gerger, motor policy adviser at the ABI said: “A substantial body of research shows that using a mobile phone – whether hand-held or hands-free – while driving is a significant distraction and substantially increases the risk of the driver crashing.

“Mobile phone use while driving should be as socially unacceptable as drink driving. The ABI welcomes the Transport Select Committee’s report and any initiative that improves road safety and has the potential to save lives.” 

Last month two e-scooter related incidents sparked a debate on whether riders of these motorised vehicles should have insurance as a compulsory measure. 

Educating drivers

Lilian Greenwood MP and chair of the CTC said: “If mobile phone use while driving is to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving much more effort needs to go into educating drivers about the risks and consequences of using a phone behind the wheel. Offenders also need to know there is a credible risk of being caught, and that there are serious consequences for being caught.

“There is also a misleading impression that hands-free use is safe. The reality is that any use of a phone distracts from a driver’s ability to pay full attention and the Government should consider extending the ban to reflect this.”

Minimising risk

Allianz’s Nick Kelsall, head of motor claims also welcomed the proposed ban and the possibility of risks being reduced.

He said that the insurer is in favour of “tougher restrictions to ensure that risks are minimised, reducing motor claims” to make the roads safer for everyone.

But he warned: “It is concerning that not many people are aware, that even under current law, drivers can still be prosecuted for using a hands-free set if it affects their driving. It is essential that employers take appropriate actions to safeguard their employees and road users, educating their fleet drivers on the dangers of distracted driving.

“It’s good to see that the Transport Committee is raising the issue of distracted driving and looking at what the impact using mobile phones has on that.”

Reducing risks could in turn reduce premiums and see insurers pay-out less claims.

However some drivers such as Deliveroo riders and Uber drivers need to use mobile phones while they work.

Steve Barrett head of Direct Line car insurance mentioned that 17 years ago the firm worked with the Transport REsearch Laboratory (TRL) to draw attention to the dangers of using mobile phones as well as hands-free devices. 

He said: ”Since then, people have become increasingly reliant on mobile phones and smart devices in their every-day lives. Using a mobile phone whilst driving is a serious distraction that could lead to six penalty points on your licence or a £1000 fine.”

Direct Line welcomes the TSC’s report as well as any measures that could potentially improve road saftey and prevent casualties.

Significant distraction 

Insurethebox conducted research in 2017 finding that 30% of drivers admitted to using a mobile phone while driving., therefore the challenge the firm’s road safety manager Simon Rewell said was to “find more effective ways to enforce legislation”.

He explained that insurethebox would support a review of how technology can help giving the example of other countries using speed cameras to identify whether a mobile phone is in use by the driver and to ensure everyone is wearing a seatbelt.

“Any in-car distraction increases the risk for motorists and their passengers. However, the evidence is clear that mobile phone usage is a particularly significant distraction and not just for phone calls, but texting and messaging too. We, therefore, fully advocate the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee to redefine the offence of using a mobile phone or other device while driving, whether hand-held or hands free, and irrespective of whether this involves sending or receiving data, Rewell continued. 

“We urge motorists to avoid ever holding a mobile phone while driving, and to resist the temptation of looking at the phone, even if stuck in a queue of traffic. The ‘do not disturb’ function that is now so common on mobile devices should be switched on before the start of the journey and the phone put in the glovebox so that there is no risk of distraction while driving.”