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Campaigners concerned by smartphone car crash link

Friday, October 3rd 2014 by Ellen Branagh

New mobile technology could be contributing to the hike in accidents involving people using their phones at the wheel, campaigners have warned.

Road safety groups said new technology is helping people do more with their phones while driving, putting them and other motorists at increased risk.

Figures from the Department for Transport show that the number of accidents where a mobile phone was recorded as a contributory factor have risen by a total of 38% since 2005, with a 12% rise between 2012 and 2013 last year.

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), told Cable.co.uk: “The increase in deaths and injuries caused by drivers using mobile phones is very worrying, and shows that we all need to work harder to get message across that using a phone while driving is dangerous and illegal.

“It also shows the need for more enforcement to create a stronger deterrent.

“While our main focus is educating drivers and enforcement, we are also concerned that new technologies are being rolled out that enable drivers to do more and more things with their phones at the wheel, including different ways to engage with the phone hands-free.

“We do not support hands-free use of phones while driving, because research has shown that this is just as dangerous as using a hand-held phone.”

Philip Goose, senior community engagement officer at road safety charity Brake, told us, “Brake is concerned about the added use of in car technology while driving, particularly to make calls, and would welcome any technologies that would limit their use.

“However individuals already have the power to limit phone use while driving without having to wait for technological developments – we call on all drivers to simply put their phones out of sight while driving and keep their full attention on the wheel.

“Brake also supports the introduction of changes to the driving test and the introduction of graduated driving licensing, with more emphasis on risks posed by mobile phone use.”

In 2005, when the DfT started including data on contributory factors, the total number of accidents where mobile phones were a contributory factor stood at 306. Other than a drop in 2008, the number has risen steadily each year since then.

Overall, since 2005, there has been a 38% rise, with 7% rises in 2010 and 2011, 1% in 2012, and a 12% rise in 2013, when the total went from 378 to 422.

Earlier this week, the RAC used the figures to cite a 21% rise in accidents where mobiles were a contributory factor from 2010 to 2013, and called for the police to more effectively enforce current laws on using hand-held phones while driving.

According to its Report on Motoring 2014, more than a third of drivers (34%) said they worry about other drivers being distracted by their hand-held mobiles while behind the wheel.

The findings, based on a large-scale internet survey of 1,526 British motorists, revealed that three quarters (75%) of drivers reported regularly seeing other people chatting on their mobile phones at the wheel, and 44% claimed to see it happening during most of their car journeys. Just 8% admitted doing it themselves.

According to the report, motorists are four times more likely to crash if they use a mobile phone while driving, with a driver’s reaction time around 50% slower if using a mobile phone.

The RAC also cited research into the impact of sending or receiving text messages among young drivers, including a rise in lane excursions and incorrect lane changes while texting and driving.

Responding to the figures about mobile phones and accidents, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous and irresponsible.

“And increasingly the problem isn't just with phone calls but use of devices for texting and even to access sites such as Facebook and Twitter.”

He said the DfT had increased the fine for the offence last year and was looking at the effectiveness of that measure, adding, “There are other options open to me to increase the deterrent which I will keep under consideration.”

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