Using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel? You're an idiot

Major Waffle
A little rant about the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. Sorry, it just has to be said.

Allow me, if you will, a moment to have a little rant about the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. This shouldn't take too long.

Yesterday, I completed a 500-mile round trip to Harpenden to see the good folk of Motoring Research. In case you were wondering, I took the Isuzu D-Max. Oh, you weren't wondering. Anyway...

Maybe it's because I work from home, so don't get out much, but without wishing to come over all 'angry from Manchester' or 'disgusted from Tunbridge Wells,' the amount of people using a mobile phone at the wheel must be reaching epidemic proportions. It's no exaggeration to suggest that on one small stretch of the M25, as many as one in two motorists were either texting or had a phone pressed to their ear.

Really, I don't mind if these people want to kill themselves, that's their prerogative. But could they be so kind as to go away and be distracted while doing something dangerous away from me, my family, my friends and other innocent motorists? Maybe they'd like to work a chainsaw while updating their Facebook status. Or wander across a rifle range while emailing the boss. Or wrestle a shark while sending a tweet.

The last time I looked, anyone caught using a mobile phone when driving will receive three points on their licence and a fine of £100. If it goes to court, the driver also faces disqualification and a fine of up to £1,000. The people I saw yesterday know what they're doing is illegal, but they're still prepared to take the risk. Why?

Part of the reason is that they know they're unlikely to get caught. Speed, sorry, safety cameras won't catch them. There are fewer police patrol cars on the road. And modern cars lure us into a false sense of security; cocooning us from the perils of driving a car at speed.

[caption id="attachment_23481" align="aligncenter" width="1366"] lexus nx Will dot I Am, not texting, yesterday[/caption]

On one four-lane stretch of the M25, I noticed a Lexus NX drifting across three lanes. The driver was hogging the third lane, even though the second lane was empty, and occasionally he just about managed to keep his SUV between the white lines. As I pulled alongside him, you guessed it, he had a phone pressed to his right ear.

Two things are of note here. Firstly, the simple fact that somebody other than Will dot I Am finds the NX attractive (and he was paid to be associated with the Lexus). Secondly, that this seemingly intelligent and affluent chap was prepared to take the risk in such a blatant and obvious manner. I've checked: unsurprisingly, the £30k+ NX is fitted with Bluetooth connectivity as standard. So why wasn't he using it?

This was just one of many examples of drivers mixing driving with... er... smartphoning. The lady doing 70mph in a MINI with both hands off the wheel. The man texting while driving his Insignia on the M1. The girl doing her makeup and holding a phone. The young(ish) lady using a smartphone while manoeuvring her Volkswagen Phaeton through a contraflow system. Threading that bad boy through the cones using only one hand was skilful, lady, but I'd rather you didn't demonstrate this in my vicinity.

Texting while at the wheel

The problem isn't restricted to motorways. Anyone familiar with the A303 will know that between Marsh and its end at Annie's Tea Bar, it becomes a single carriageway, winding its way through the Blackdown Hills. For the driver of the Volkswagen Transporter van in front, this was an opportunity to demonstrate just how many times you can hit the kerb or cross the centre white line.

I never got to see if he was using a mobile phone, but it's either that or he was drunk. Or simply unable to control a vehicle. But I thank him for the regular showers of dust kicked up by this love of hitting the kerb. Good work, sir.

Look, I know few of us can claim to be faultless drivers, but it's the brazen disregard for the law that really winds me up. They must know it's wrong, but they're still prepared to do it. And in such an open manner, too.

It's got to the point where the prospect of driver-less cars seems rather appealing, if only to ensure we're not having to mix it with idiots and risk-takers. They're just as annoying as middle lane hoggers, with the added 'bonus' that their actions could result in an accident and/or death.

How do we stop them? And I'm assuming here that, as a reader of PetrolBlog, you wouldn't dream of using a phone while driving. A telex machine, maybe, or possibly a fax, but not a smartphone. Pesky things.

One thought is that the points and prizes penalty system isn't sufficient enough to stop these people. Either that or they know they're not going to get caught.

So how about this: if you're caught using a hand-held phone while driving, your car is taken away, leaving you to endure the horrors of public transport. There you can use your phone until your heart's content, as you share your journey and a few airborne diseases with fellow passengers. Alternatively, if that's not severe enough, why not force these people to spend six months with a Mitsubishi Mirage? That ought to stop them.

To paraphrase Barry Davies, look at her face. Just look at her face.

[caption id="attachment_23476" align="aligncenter" width="1366"]White Mitsubishi Mirage Cold semolina, earlier[/caption]

Seriously, what can be so important that it has to be dealt with while driving? Unless you happen to be Barack Obama (hello, Mr. President) or Harry Redknapp on transfer deadline day, there's nothing happening on your smartphone that can't be dealt with when you get to Membury Services. Leave the bloody thing in the glovebox.

Twenty years ago, the mobile phone wasn't mainstream enough for using a phone at the wheel to be a problem. But without wishing to make you feel old, today's youngest drivers would have been born in 1999, so they don't know a world without mobiles. Some find it impossible to live without their phone for more than five minutes, desperate to see another video of a kitten falling off a toaster or if Mike in Accounts has approved their request for a new stapler.

But this isn't a problem restricted to young drivers - far from it. Almost all of the drivers I saw yesterday were old enough to know better and looked intelligent enough to be aware of the risks.  A recent survey found that 57% of drivers say they feel "in control" using their mobile phone while driving, despite the fact that behind-the-wheel distractions account for 6% of all fatal accidents.

The evidence of my 500-mile trip yesterday suggests that the majority of these 'in control' drivers are anything but. If you're one of the idiots I saw, do us all a favour and stop it. At least I wouldn't have to wake up really early to get this waffle off my chest.