/ Motoring

Checking your phone while driving: a dangerous phenomenon

It seems many of us are so addicted to our phones we can’t even sit at a red light without giving in to the temptation. Have you spotted people on their phones while they should be driving?

The last few months I’ve noticed this dangerous phenomenon more and more – the number of people I’ve seen on their phones while at the wheel has been worrying.

The other day I was sitting behind a car at a red light. The lights changed to green, but the car didn’t move. “They’re probably on their phone” said my brother. I glanced ahead and there they were  –  looking down, transfixed.

“I’m seeing this every day” he continued, “not just in traffic jams or red lights either – people are at it while they’re going along as well”.

An accident waiting to happen

This doesn’t seem to be limited to drivers either – the other day I saw a cyclist in full flight on the road with one hand on the handlebar, the other on his phone, not checking what was ahead of him on a busy street full of traffic and parked cars.

So what’s behind this apparent surge in phone use at the wheel? I think the majority of us are accustomed to using hands-free kits and well aware of what would happen if we’re seen with our phones to our ear while driving, so why do people seemingly think that looking down at a smartphone is any different?

If you’re caught holding your phone while at the wheel, you’re likely to be prosecuted – it carries a penalty of £200 and six penalty points.

‘Dead time’

We’ve become acclimatised to going on our phones during ‘dead time’ ; TV advert breaks, public transport – I’ve even found myself scrolling Twitter while in a lift or on an escalator.

So, when there’s a break in normality, such as waiting at a red light where you feel you have absolutely nothing to do, the compulsion kicks in. I won’t lie, I’ve felt it, too. It’s become like a reflex reaction to when you have nothing essential to concentrate on.

But when you’re engaged in an activity as dangerous as driving a vehicle, you absolutely must resist. Your own life, and the lives of others could depend on it. Nothing on Facebook or in your WhatsApp messages could possibly be more important.

This raises questions about the long-term effects of smartphone use. They’ve changed our social behaviour in a very short space of time – where might we be in, say, 20 years from now?

Have you spotted people on their phones while they should be driving? Do you use yours to fill ‘dead time’? What do you think the solution is? Let me know if you share my concerns.


My wife & I are of an age when zombies with black plastic extensions to their ears did not exist. We now have to move out of the way of people completely oblivious of their surroundings — sadly we have also been affected by similar individuals trying to multitask in a supermarket !

Why do users have to shout whilst annoying us all ? Modern electronic are now so efficient they don’t need to, or are they trying to impress us?
I only make these points to show how unthinking people can be and to ask why we should put up with them being behind the wheel of any type of motor vehicle? It is certainly true that the law do not apply to zombies , probably they could afford a “handsfree” setup, so would either a £1000.00 fine or a 12month ban draw their attention? Also close any loopholes in the law ala Mr Beckham (who has been taken of our Christmas list I might add)

Don’t let any others get injured before changes are made to our lenient laws to protect the inocent

Phil says:
14 October 2018

What is it with people that they constantly want to check their phone???
I have never used mine while driving but see so many people do. Several people have been killed recently due to accidents whilst using phones – they need much higher fines and/or loss of licence for a year or more or even prison.
If me and my wife can manage without using our mobiles while driving so can others!!!

John says:
15 October 2018

yes do see drivers using their phones all the time, both on motorways as well as minor roads. It is bad enough that they have the phone to their ears – why can’t they buy hands-free for as little as £20? Even worse are drivers that have their phones on their lap and are texting – how utterly irresponsible. Without police on the road or at least carrying out roadside monitoring folks think nobody is going to see me so it’s okay.
No it is not.We need to show the effects of road crashes where drivers are not paying attention and ensure/ finds better ways of detecting.

Use of phones at the wheel is endemic. People will do what they think they can get away with. How likely is it that they will be caught? What can be done without proof and how is that obtained?

Totally agree with all these sentiments

I think the penalty for using the mobile phone while driving should be an immediate 12-month ban, 9 points on the licence and a £1,000 fine. Yesterday while driving down the M5 in Gloucestershire at 70 mph I was overtaken by a BMW X5 towing a caravan with the driver texting on his phone. The caravan was weaving from side to side – an accident waiting to happen.

Assuming your overtaker was doing 80 mph, that’s 20 mph over the speed limit for a car towing a caravan on a motorway. How you could spot that the driver was texting as he flashed past is amazing. Given that you apprehended that a collision might occur, did you and other drivers reduce speed and hold back to prevent a pile-up?

Modern cars have multi-functional touch screens, and if I were an idiot I could drive my Golf at 70mph while while working my way through pages of tunes, podcasts and settings. Why has no-one cottoned on to this hazard? Surely it’s about the same as fiddling with a mobile phone, isn’t it? It must be perfectly simple to disable most of a screen’s pages while the car is in motion. A passenger would not be able to operate the screen either, but that’s just tough; safety comes first.

Interesting point, Richard. There doesn’t seem to be much between using these in-car displays while driving and using one’s own mobile phone. You might have thought the screen could be disabled while the vehicle is in motion if no one is sitting in the front passenger seat.

I heard quite some time ago that the European Parliament were planning to ban all kinds of Displays which could Distract Drivers, but the Auto Industry doesn’t seem to be listening, or even CARE about Road Safety, as more and more vehicles are appearing with these RIDICULOUSLY DANGEROUS Displays built into their Dashboards.

Bring on self-driving cars. My car has active cruise control and drives better than the majority of human drivers. I am a fully attentive driver, just watching the arrogant, aggressive or sleep-driving humans (no WhatsApp for me!). If you have active cruise control, I suggest switching it on and watching. It’s very informative.
Isn’t it strange that we all think it’s the other drivers who are poor? Our own driving is perfect!
It’s like the spelling and punctuation in this comment. My tablet did most of it. AI is the future!

A couple of redundant commas 🙂 (in my opinion) . The trouble is there is a lot more to driving than cruising. Trial and error might not be the best way to iron the bugs out of the operating systems.

My greatest concern is professional van & lorry drivers who are often seen reading/texting when on the move – very noticeable in slow moving traffic. Actually van delivery drivers really worry me on the rural roads around here – driving too fast with agression thrown in!

One of the Funniest, but Most Dangerous things I have ever seen was an Approaching, Fully Laden HGV, at Full Throttle, struggling to maintain 30 mph up an Incline, with its Driver’s Face JAMMED AGAINST the WINDSCREEN ! As he got nearer I saw he had his Mobile Phone in one hand, pressed against his ear, with a finger from his other hand jammed in his other Ear to block out the DIN from his engine, and his face had to be against the Winscreen as he was Leaning Forward out of his seat so that he could Steer his Truck with his ELBOWS pushed through the Spokes of the Steering Wheel.

One of the problems is the HUGE NUMBER of American Films shown on UK TV which show POLICE OFFICERS driving with ONE HAND while Holding a Microphone in their other Hand, Yacking Away on a Police Radio while supposedly Driving “AT THE LIMIT” in a Car Chase. This gives a sort of subliminal message to viewers that if it’s OK for the police to do this, even at HIGH SPEED in DIFFICULT SITUATIONS, then it should be No Problem for the Viewer to Chat on his/her phone while commuting at 30mph or less.