Thursday, May 09, 2013

Big Deal

It is reported in this morning's paper that the penalty for using a mobile phone while driving is to be increased by 50%. I can confidently predict that this will make not a jot of difference to the number of people who break what must be the most-ignored law of recent times.
Many people do not think that the ban on hand held devices applies to them, up to and including HGV drivers, such as the Waitrose driver who drove his 40-ton artic through the narrow High Street of my home town last week with his phone to his ear. I use motorways a lot, and it is quite usual to see a powerful car pottering in the middle lane with the driver yakking or texting away as I pass him, only for him to resume his 100mph progress in the right hand lane a few minutes later.
It is simply impractical to clamp down on this dangerous practice (and texting at the wheel really does take the biscuit) because police traffic patrols have almost disappeared from the roads, and in any event, it isn't possible to see someone using a phone  at night, or in rain.
The long-term solution will lie in technology, but I doubt that we will see the will to use it.


  1. You already have the technology at your thumbertips. Lay on the horn so that they cannot continue their conversation. Also the driver at the other end will want to hang up because it will sound like they are about to crash.

    1. ^this

      In my younger years I was once berated by another driver waiting at the lights for using my mobile phone, and it had quite an effect on me. I have since used my horn and waved a finger at mobile users and the reaction is always a sheepish surrender of the call. Drink driving wasn't reduced half so much by increased detection as by social attitude moving so strongly against it. If all the people who don't like mobile phone use when driving actually communicated their displeasure it would have a huge effect.

  2. Perhaps, though, a few high-profile convictions of incidents that involved the driver using a mobile phone (easy to tell, after the fact) would start to educate others.

    Most drivers wouldn't dream of driving without wearing their seatbelt, these days.

  3. Increasing the sentence for an offence that is so commonplace as to be virtually ignored seems completely pointless. I suspect it's a bit of PR to make the present lot look as if they are being tough on lawbreakers, when in reality nothing much will change.

    The technology already exists to block mobile phone signals over a short range (perhaps a few of metres or more), and jammers are readily available on the open market (just do a web search for mobile phone jammers), although they are almost certainly illegal to use.

    If there really was a will to stop people using 'phones when driving, then it wouldn't seem that hard to insist that all cars be fitted with short range jammers to block mobile phone signals from within the car, much as we insist that cars have seat belts.

    AFAICS, there is never a good reason for someone needing to use a phone whilst actually driving, rather than when stopped, so a jammer that turns on when the ignition is on would seem to be a reasonable answer to the problem. It would have the side effect of preventing passengers using the things as well, but that probably just gets rid of another source of distraction.

    1. And what of me, using my phone perfectly normally in the passenger seat? Or people who use a hands-free system for their phone while driving? Your jamming suggestion punishes them too. Particularly when they need to phone in an accident.

    2. Accidental collateral damage, but worth it given the proven risk of using a 'phone whilst driving (even hands free). It also removes the possibility of further distraction to the driver from the passengers call.

      Phoning to report an accident is fine, just stop the car (whereupon the jammer turns off) and make the call. If there's an accident you'll almost certainly stop in order to render assistance anyway, so there's no problem.

  4. The research shows that mobile phone use is the same as a non-stratospheric drink-driver, and logic would indicate a 6-12 month ban on conviction. If this came in, it would certainly cut offending, but at the cost of a huge increase in defended cases and a lenthening of what (in my Area) is an already unjustifiable delay in motoring trials.

    It would also lead to a huge number of Not Guilty verdicts, because as things stand it is the driver's word against the policeman and there are many, many cases where the case doesn't pass the Reasonable Doubt test. At that point, we would need some technological evidence, as we have with the breathyliser.

    My own preferred solution, appilcab;le in the real world )and not the Fantasy Island in which many retiring room discussions seem to dwell) is to set the tariff at 6-8 points. As currently with No Insurance, that means you have a little elbow room with a straightforward offence but are teetering on the edge for an aggravated matter such as the cases you quote.

  5. I agreee with Bystander that new legislation will not make a jot of difference since there are too few police to enforce it.
    There is a difference between using a hand-held mobile phone (illegal) and a hands-free mobile, which is legal. However, if the police think you’re distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised.
    Those greybeards like me who were around before the current legislation, will remember that the police resisted its introduction as they already had the power to prosecute for the catch-all offence of Driving without Due Care.

    Please refer to the site.

  6. And what if it is not enforced...

  7. An ex-NorthernJP9 May 2013 at 15:15

    Driving whilst using a mobile phone or texting has been a constant irritation for me. The offenders, at least where I live, are not only the white van man and lorry drivers but usually those with large SUVs or expensive prestige cars who could easily afford a hands free kit. A £90 fine plus 3 points is no deterrent given the very low probability of being caught.
    I agree that the offence should carry 6 points for the first offence and an automatic disqualification for a second similar offence in 5 years.

    If the police think an offence has been committed but it is denied at the time the phone should be seized and examined using the service providers records. Most people would be unwilling to give up their phone and the spurious not guilty pleas markedly reduced. I realise there is a potential down side in the seizing of genuinely innocent peoples phones but why would you have your phone in your hand whilst driving if not using it?

    1. Those same drivers with expensive cars probably have an integrated Bluetooth system anyway, and just can't be bothered to use one.

      If my humble Ford Focus has one, I'm sure a Range Rover will.

  8. Six points for phoning or answering the phone - nine for texting.

    At the moment, however, drivers come to court with their bills showing that they had not made a call and we have to tell them that it does not prove they did not receive one - but where necessary the police can get details of all use of the phone. That is not a level playing field. All providers should be required to provide the registered owner of the phone with full data of all calls made or answered and all texts sent - for a modest fee - which would separate the sheep from the goats.

  9. Though it is still dangerous, wireless Bluetooth or even wired earpieces are so cheap there is really no excuse for not having one. It is a truism that many of the more expensive cars could run to bluetooth, but they would rather have something else ego boosting...

    Basically people do not associate the risk with the actual danger. They also think the risk of being caught so low that the law is ignored. A mix of compulsory ban/points and big fine (£5000?) would have an impact - Its all about deterrence. This is especially true for commercial drivers where the company could be levied with the fine.

    It could be worse though. I have seen mobiles being used by parents who are smoking and eating at the same time, while their unseat-belted children run wild in the back.....

    Smoking in a car with a child is bad in my books too.

  10. "...including HGV drivers, such as the Waitrose driver who drove his 40-ton artic through the narrow High Street of my home town last week with his phone to his ear."

    I hope you reported him to Waitrose. Company transport managers tend to take it seriously - I have been contacted back on a number of occasions - including one manager who said the driver is no longer working for us. A result I would say.

  11. Even doubling the number of traffic officers would probably make no significant difference to the enforcement rate. The trouble is, as usual, the legal profession makes what should be a relatively uncomplicated process (one of those direct measures Bystander views with suspicion because it means the police usurping his role) and turns it into a torturous, bureaucratic nightmare that leaves cops thinking, ‘*sigh* What’s the point?’ Click on the link for further detail:

    We now have to prove they were using their phone at the time, i.e. receiving or making calls or texts. There are two ways of doing this; seize and interrogate the phone or conduct call analysis. Both involve filling out forms, the latter being at least a 7 page exercise in screaming frustration as one tries to justify intruding on the suspect’s privacy. Despite what some contributors to this site think, cops are not dead eyed agents of a fascist state who take great delight in oppressing innocent people and making their lives as difficult as possible, so we really don’t want to seize the phone.

    Due to backlogs caused by the explosion of the use of digital media in crime, simple phone examinations can sometimes take weeks if not months. One then has to convert the results into evidence acceptable to the court. What with the pressure on our time through having to service the demands of the mad, bad and sad you can perhaps see why it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

    1. As many (most?) police cars have cameras, isn't it possible to just take a photo of someone with a 'phone up against their ear and use that as evidence?

      Given that I'd guess anyone driving around our roads witnesses people "using" 'phones whilst driving (i.e. we see them holding them to their ear) this is one case where I'd support the confiscation of the 'phone on the spot (in case call records need to be checked) followed by a hefty fixed penalty and at least 6 points.

      If someone wants to argue the finer legal points when there is a photo of them with a 'phone against their ear, then let them, but this is one case where I suggest there really is no margin to claim innocence on a technicality, as that MP in the Express link did.

    2. "We now have to prove they were using their phone at the time, i.e. receiving or making calls or texts. "

      I know a lot of police officers object to the idea of proving that a crime has been committed, but that is what our law requires. What is wrong with that?

    3. My phone does a whole bunch of stuff that are not call or text-related (GPS maps, facebook, google+, mail, ...). It does these many of these whether I am actively 'using it' or not. In fact I almost exclusively use the data bit.

      Why not simply follow the car and film the miscreant using their phone, and use that as evidence? Since using your phone in the car is as bad as drunk driving loosing their licence for a year seems like an equitable punishment.

    4. "The long-term solution will lie in technology, but I doubt that we will see the will to use it."

      No, the long-term solution is social pressure by other people making it unacceptable behavoir. We already have technology to install breathalyzers in cars to prevent drunk-driving, but I've not seen that expounded as the solution to drunk-driving.

  12. Several points (pun intended) arise.

    My daughter was driven into strechered away from the scene as a consequence of being kicked in the back by a company driver who admitted using his phone. He helpfully left his phone number before he sped off as he was "on his way to an important meeting". My daughter lost the use of one arm for about 18 months - and as she is a surgeon, that wasn't ideal. The police tracked him down but didn't prosecute for all the admin reasons described above. By the time my complaint was dealt with, it was all too late (abuse of process etc).

    The police also tell me of some of the practicalities of stopping someone on a typical A road. Scenario is police parked in layby and see car with drive3r on the phone. Police move out about three cars behind. Follow for a while as no spacer to overtake. Eventually catch up with suspect car and drive another couple of miles to next safe space to stop. Call now long over and discussion ensues. Whatever the outcome, half an hour has gone by.

    I have a small torch with flashing LED lights (white and red) which I flash at those on the phone. Never fails to amuse me to see drivers dropping their phones at once.

    What is one to do? If I see someone spraying graffiti, I call in and get a response. Should I be phoning in every time I see someone using a hands held phone?

    An in answer to @John above - bluetooth is standard on all range rovers since 2004.

  13. I find that holding up my own phone/TV remote/anything the right shape and pretending to take the offender's photo with it usually has an interesting effect.

  14. Jamming devices in all cars wouldn't always work, and would have huge collateral damage.

    Jamming devices in cars would be disabled by many users, probably the ones who aren't insured.

    If most vehicles were fitted with jamming devices, most town streets would be affected much of the time. London would become a mobile phone blackspot. The devices that will soon be fitted to all cars that will report accidents to the emergency services wouldn't work. Jamming would stop any passengers using mobile phones, and drivers who wanted to stop to make a call would have to drive to somewhere deserted to use a phone.

    1. I saw a demonstration a few years ago of a cigarette packet sized (and disguised)'phone jammer. That had a jamming range when tested of about 1.5m in open air, anyone further away could use their phone as normal.

      Such a device would have no appreciable effect on mobile phone use outside the car, especially as the car would act to constrain the effective range somewhat.

      If fitted inside a car, say behind the dash trim, then it could be quite hard to disable.

      The technology behind these phone jammers is reasonably sophisticated, and doesn't rely on brute strength jamming in the conventional sense.

      Another option is the sort of warning device that was commonplace where I used to work. Secure areas were monitored with small, standalone, mobile phone detectors that sounded an alarm whenever a mobile phone signal was detected. Again these were short range devices (they were typically used in secure meeting rooms) and the technology they use could easily be adapted to only trigger if a phone is turned on near the driver.

  15. If it wasn't for the fact that my car (and many others) contains lots & lots of electronic gubbins, I would so create a mini EMP gun and fire it at those who use their mobiles whilst driving. I'd also like to use it on people who play their music too loud on trains and buses....

    But the crux of the matter is that we need more police to effectively police these offences, with time spent more on actual policing than on paperwork.... Oh how I miss Inspector Gadget's blog....

  16. Can GCHQ not simply cross-reference their phone tapping records against ACPO's national ANPR database and automatically send all offenders a fixed penalty?

    [ ] No, and the fact that this doesn't happen surely shows that these "big brother" databases are not as extensive as some people make out

    [ ] No, because these databases are far too secret and valuable to reveal their extent by prosecuting traffic offences

    * tick as appropriate for your paranoia level


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