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Driver distraction, using mobile phones and phone addiction

Using mobile phones whilst driving remains a common driver distraction issue. This is despite UK law requiring hands free mobile phone use since 2003. In 2017 the law changed again to increase the penalty to a fine of £200 and six points on the licence of drivers caught using a hand held phone. However, this legislation hasn’t stopped us using a mobile phone while driving. In fact, surveys suggest that mobile phone use by drivers has increased since 2017. The UK Department of Transport indicates drivers between 17 and 29 years old are twice as likely as other age groups to be using their phone whilst driving. The driver distraction problem is worse in Scotland. In 2017 there were 43 people killed in UK collisions where mobile phone use was a contributory factor

Why is Driver Distraction a problem?

The numbers of people killed due to distracted driving clearly makes it a problem. The effects of driver distraction include drivers:

  • Being less likely to detect hazards on the road
  • With reduced ability to control speed
  • Underestimating the effect distraction has on their driving
  • Failing to see road signs
  • Reduced reaction times


Are we addicted to our phones?

A recent YouGov poll in the US found that over 50% of millennials (those people entering the workforce around the Millennium) feel anxious without their mobile phones. Another survey by mobile app Visible found that those millennials surveyed would rather not shampoo their hair for a week and go without Netflix for a month rather than give up their phone! The situation in the UK is no better. A Deloitte survey in 2017 revealed that 38% of adults felt that they were using their smartphone too much.

According to surveys by PEW Research (https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/) 71% of Americans sleep with their smartphones next to their bed and 44% of 18 to 24 year olds often fall asleep with their smartphone still in their hands. I’m not sure there is anything to suggest these statistics would be dissimilar for the UK.

Take the smartphone addiction test

If you want to check how addicted you are to your phone, complete the Smartphone Compulsion Test developed at the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine


You could be addicted to your smartphone if these characteristics apply to you:

  • Reaching out to your phone as soon as you wake up
  • Using your smartphone when bored
  • You become anxious if your smartphone is out of sight or grasp
  • Other people complain about how much time you spend on your smartphone
  • Spending increasing amounts of time on your smartphone
  • An inability to reduce the amount of time on your smartphone, even if you want to

Why do we get addicted?

Psychologists suggest there is an air of unpredictability associated with our mobile phones: will we have received a text message, has a new email come in? These are the small intermittent rewards that keep us checking our phones. A like and a share of our posted content will make us feel good, the dopamine flows, and we get addicted. Social media apps are designed to hook us in. Instagram for example, delivers ‘likes’ in a bundle to encourage you not to close the app. Checking our apps gives an ‘intensely focused state of distraction’ and this condition can bring about long term effects on our brain, which requires us to seek distraction. Social media apps also give us the feeling of belonging and acceptance in a group, this plays on a strong human need.

Changes to legislation to stop driver distraction

Last week, news reports told us that the UK government is planning to change the law relating to mobile phones and driving. Some drivers have used a loophole in the law to overturn convictions for driving whilst using a mobile phone. These drivers have been claiming that they were using their phone to take photographs and not to make a call. The drivers have argued that taking photos or filming with a smartphone is not an ‘interactive communication’ as defined by current legislation. The law will be reviewed and new proposals will be in place next spring.

Law enforcement

There has been a 14% decrease in Police officers in the UK over the last 10 years (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk) so our perception that there are fewer traffic Police officers on the road is probably true. So, even if the legislation is made more robust, will there be enough Police officers to enforce the new legal requirements? Hampshire and Thames Valley Police forces are to start using technology that detects a blue tooth signal and flashes a mobile phone warning sign at a driver. Will enforcement of more robust distraction prevention measures will be enabled by technology? However, the best approach has to be breaking our addiction to mobile phone use. That way we become more productive. We also reduce the risk of mental and physical poor health and reduce the risk of distraction when driving.

9 tips for reducing mobile phone addiction and preventing the use of mobile phones whilst driving

What can we do to stop mobile phone distraction? Here are 9 tips to help reduce your addiction and prevent using a mobile phone whilst driving. According to the book Psycho Cybernetics by Dr Maxwell Maltz (https://www.njlifehacks.com/psycho-cybernetics-maxwell-maltz-book-summary/) we need to change our behaviour for at least 21 days to enable us to break a habit.

  1. Turning your phone off before you get into a vehicle is the obvious one. Our attention cannot be in two places at once so the phone should be left alone. Placing your smartphone in a bag in the boot of the car will definitely prevent distraction. If hands free mobile phone use is permitted by your employer, link the phone to the blue tooth system before the journey starts.
  2. Employers should ensure that their mobile phone policy clearly covers the prohibition of checking text messages and emails on a phone whilst driving. Using the phone to take photos whilst driving should also be prohibited.
  3. Set up a smart phone for satellite navigation purposes before the journey starts. The phone should be held in an appropriately located cradle.
  4. Set custom notifications for your apps. This will stop you receiving a notification every time someone posts a comment in a forum.
  5. Schedule a time to reply to emails, you don’t have to reply to a message straight away.
  6. Remove the apps that are taking up your time.
  7. If you need to use your phone as an alarm clock, use a charging dock located away from your bed so you’ve designated a phone zone. Ensure that you cannot reach the charging dock from your bed.
  8. Break your addiction by not using your smartphone for entertainment purposes.
  9. This sounds contradictory, but check out some apps designed to help us manage our time spent using a smartphone:
  • Inthemoment.io will enable you to limit the amount of time you spend using your smartphone
  • Justmuteit.com tracks phone useage and helps you celebrate managing your addiction!
  • Space-app.com involves a quiz that tells you your phone user ‘type’ and helps you set goals on phone use

Looking to the future

Maybe we would all benefit from being less dependent on our mobile phones? By following these suggestions we should all be able to stop using our mobile phones whilst driving. The new legislation will be introduced next spring so preparation for more robust legislation is required. Managers must take steps to understand causes of distraction for employees driving for work and take positive steps to manage driver distraction. If you need further policies and procedures to assist with managing driver distraction, go to https://fleetsafetyacademy.co.uk

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