It is frankly amazing when you think about it; that little device you carry in your pocket is capable of simultaneously facilitating a conference call, tracking your movements virtually anywhere on earth within a few feet, and playing a feature film in high resolution, all while keeping a log of your voice and data usage.
Those capabilities are particularly impressive when you consider what happens when we humans try to do even two things at once. As loath as we are to admit it – even to ourselves – if we try to do only two things at once, we are quite likely to screw one of those things up. If you think that’s hyperbole, try playing a game that most children engage in at some point, where you try to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. Go ahead and try it.
If you are like most people, you will have caught yourself patting or rubbing both your stomach and your head at some point, and these are supremely simple acts. Compare this exercise to the much more demanding tasks of maneuvering through a crowd on foot, or operating a motor vehicle, and you begin to understand how even a seemingly minor distraction can virtually negate your competence at executing tasks you might have thought required little or no cognitive involvement.
Drivers distracted by mobile phone use take a heavy toll
Back in December of 2007, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) published a Road Safety Information white paper on the types, effects, and statistical occurrences of driver distraction. The information contained therein is eye-opening, to say the least. For example, one study in the US found that in 78% of crashes, distraction or inattention on the part of one or both drivers was a contributing element in the crash. And in the UK, 28% of all car crashes resulted from drivers using mobile phones, according to a March 2014 article in the Daily Mail. Surprisingly, only five percent of those accidents were caused by texting. The rest were caused by the drivers being distracted by merely holding a conversation on their phones. And contrary to what often passes for “common wisdom,” participating in a hands-free conversation doesn’t appear to significantly reduce the level of distraction drivers experience.
The problem can only get worse
The increase in the number of mobile phone users can only serve to exacerbate the problem of distraction during the performance of other tasks. In 2000, for example, roughly half of UK residents said they had a mobile phone, but by 2015, that number had soared to 93%. Even if the percentage of accidents caused by distractions related to mobile phone use remains unchanged, the sheer number of users would indicate that the number of accidents will only continue to rise.
Government reacts to the trend
Government recognized the existence of a problem early on, but because they underestimated the impact of mobile phone distraction on public safety, fines for using a mobile phone while driving were initially modest. According to a recent article on the MobilePhoneDeals.UK website, that is about to change, with fines due to be increased from the original £100 to a more convincing £200 for a first offence. The increase is viewed as a positive step by local law enforcement officials, who have observed that the lower fines did not appear to be particularly effective at curbing drivers’ mobile phone use.
A number of drivers seem to feel that refraining from using their mobile phone while driving is unnecessary. They are, as a rule, the same people who mistakenly believe that they are impervious to being sufficiently distracted as to diminish their driving capabilities. Hopefully, getting slapped with the higher fine will prod such individuals into complying with the law. They will of course complain about the fine, but if the threat of additional fines convinces them to set their mobile phones aside while they drive, the increase will have served its purpose.