Driven to distraction: the gadgets damaging driving

Published: 16 April 2007

Mobile phones are one of many distractions behind the wheel, finds Ben Oliver

Just did a radio interview, by mobile phone, on the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving. When the call from the studio came through I was parking the Lexus. Like an idiot, I’d forgotten to switch the Bluetooth connection on my mobile back on after a few days driving something else, so I had to answer the call with the handset rather than the car’s hands-free system while I was manoeuvring back into my space. I had already pulled in, I didn’t exceed 5mph while on the phone and I’m usually super-strict about using the hands-free. But I was kind of hoping that I’d be the first person to be nicked for using a mobile phone while driving while live on air doing an interview on the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving.

This might sound hypocritical given my recent (very minor) transgression, but it’s amazing how many people still drive with a phone clamped to one ear since the penalty for doing so was increased, and how obviously it affects their driving. The ban has my full support, if not my total compliance, but I don’t agree with a recent study suggesting that sat-nav screens are distracting, and that we should only get voice prompts while driving. Sat-nav systems leave us free to concentrate on the driving, not the directions, and glancing occasionally at the screen in the same way you look down at your other instruments just confirms the voice prompts and is often necessary to see which turning you’re going to take.

Get it wrong and you’ll wind up frustrated and doing a u-turn; you don’t make drivers safer by making sat-nav less effective. The same radio station rang me for an interview about the sat-nav ‘threat’ too. Fortunately, I only had to navigate my way into the kitchen to take the call, so this time no other road users were endangered.

As Gavin Green points out in his column in the latest issue of CAR Magazine, there are countless other distractions in our cabins and they’re multiplying as cars get more complex and technology gets cheaper. Some are very simple; driving while drinking a take-out coffee might not occupy your attention like a phone conversation, but it certainly occupies one hand. And what are you more likely to drop should an emergency arise; your phone, or a vast, scalding venti latte?

So do we ban cupholders? No. All those drivers still weaving across the road while on the blower prove that banning even the obvious stuff doesn’t work. What we need is better driver education, and more responsible, switched-on drivers. And me remembering to switch on the Bluetooth.

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features