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March 25, 2022

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Road safety

Mobile phone laws: ‘The problem of distraction isn’t going away’

‘We welcome stricter mobile phone laws, but with infotainment the problem of distraction isn’t going away,’ says RED Driver Risk Management’s General Manager Greg Ford.

Greg Ford“The stricter mobile phone laws that have come into force on March 25 are needed but we must recognise this is not the end of the problem. If anything, it is just the start.

“As an industry we must guard against a culture of complacency, that drivers think a combination of infotainment systems and active safety measures means they can spend their time flicking through apps for podcasts, music, and navigation, reading messages, and making phone calls, convinced their car will keep them out of trouble.

“Active safety systems, such as collision avoidance, auto steer and radar cruise control should be a last resort in avoiding crashes. They are there to back up the driver, not take over, and we must ensure that employees realise that the technology in their vehicles is not in charge, or somehow provides a cushion which allows them to relinquish responsibility.

“The issue of infotainment systems and their usage must be addressed too. It must be asked: how can an on-screen system such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which mimics many of a phone’s functions, be any less distracting than the actual phone? It shouldn’t be the case merely that size matters, and therefore these systems solve the problem of distraction just because the graphics are bigger.”

Active safety systems, such as collision avoidance, auto steer and radar cruise control should be a last resort in avoiding crashes.

Getting ready for take off

Phone driving

“Distraction is about the impact on a drivers’ mental capacity to undertake the roles necessary, and if you’re trying to search and upload a particular episode of your favourite podcast while travelling at 70mph on motorway, this inevitably takes away the drivers’ focus from the road.

“It also doesn’t help when some items, such as volume and climate controls are hidden on screens, and a driver must take their eyes off the road to land their finger on the right part of the screen to access various sub menus and virtual buttons.

“Voice recognition could certainly solve some of this but, if you’ve ever tried to get Siri or Google to input a destination into the sat nav, you’ll know it isn’t exactly like having your own co-pilot in the car to key it in for you.

“In some senses, there is a ratcheting up of cause and effect: more infotainment systems offer more opportunity to be distracted, so more safety systems are needed to ensure accidents don’t happen. This adds complexity and cost, and the potential for confusion.

“At RED DRM, we recommend that businesses put clear guidance in place, and that a lot of the potential for distraction can be mitigated even before the vehicle is started, and in some cases, even before a driver has got into it.”

It’s called ‘Getting ready for take off’…

On your phone, before you get in the vehicle:

  • Create music/podcast playlists in advance
  • Pre-enter your destinations in navigation apps
  • Check any traffic warnings on your route

In the car, before you set off

  • Set your media/radio to the correct channels and volume
  • Set your mobile to message only or ‘do not disturb – driving’ mode
  • Adjust any climate control/heater settings

“Also, it is crucial to ensure your drivers understand what the active safety systems in the car are capable of. If they are happily driving along thinking that the car will brake and steer them out of every possible situation, they are in for a very big, potentially tragic, shock.

“With the stricter new mobile phone law, now is the ideal time to reset your fleet risk management policies around distraction, so that it is fit for purpose in the increasingly technological environment drivers work.”

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