Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Questioning the Distraction Argument.

An old issue has raised its head in Britain again. Researchers from some university or other claim that a study demonstrates that talking on a hands-free mobile phone is just as distracting as talking on a hand-held one. No doubt the self-proclaimed health and safety lobby will now be mounting their high horses again and demanding that hands-free mobile use while driving be made illegal. If they do, they’ll be missing the point, which is this:

The difference between hand-held and hands-free mobile use isn’t about distraction, it’s about control. A person using a hands-free mobile still has both hands free to control the vehicle, which isn’t the case if one of them is holding a phone. And I think the question that has to be asked is:

How much more distracting is it to talk to somebody on a mobile phone than to talk to a passenger in the vehicle, or remonstrate with a couple of fractious kids on the back seat, or pay close attention to a discussion programme on the car radio?

I would suggest that there is broad parity between the various scenarios, so maybe we should also ban passengers and car radios. But seriously…

I fully agree with the existing law against driving with a hand-held phone, since a driver is obviously better able to control the car in a difficult situation with both hands free. But it’s impossible to legislate against every risk in life, and I do believe it would be an irrational piece of over-legislation to ban the use of hands-free mobiles.

And incidentally, I have no personal axe to grind. I never use a phone while driving, except maybe to check who just sent me a text in case I have to turn around or go somewhere else. And even then, I would only do so if the phone was in easy reach on the passenger seat (so it’s less distracting and has less impact on control than changing a CD.) If I want to read the message, I find somewhere to stop safely first.

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