There is sim­ply no safe way to use a phone while you’re driv­ing

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

AC­CORD­ING to a re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Trans­port Fo­rum (ITF), as many as 25% of crashes on South African roads are caused by the use of cell­phones while driv­ing.

Hands-free kits and Blue­tooth de­vices let driv­ers keep both hands on the wheel when talking on cell­phones, but do they re­ally make driv­ing while us­ing a cell­phone safer?

Kirstie Haslam, part­ner at DSC At­tor­neys, says that stud­ies sug­gest the an­swer is no. “Hav­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion, even if you don’t have to hold the phone, is a dis­trac­tion,” she said.

“Much like day­dream­ing, it takes your mental fo­cus away from driv­ing. If you’re con­cen­trat­ing on a con­ver­sa­tion, you’re not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to the road.”

She points out that some stud­ies have even found that driv­ers talking on phones us­ing hands-free de­vices were likely to drive faster than those us­ing phones they had to hold. “This may be be­cause the hands-free sys­tems gave the driv­ers a false sense of se­cu­rity,” she said.

COM­PAR­ING CELL­PHONE AND PAS­SEN­GER CON­VER­SA­TIONS

Haslam says that stud­ies indicate that it’s much less dan­ger­ous for a driver to talk to a pas­sen­ger than to talk on a cell­phone while driv­ing. “Although the con­ver­sa­tion it­self can be dis­tract­ing, hav­ing an ex­tra pair of eyes to see po­ten­tial threats mit­i­gates the dan­ger.”

Also, Haslam says that pas­sen­gers know to stop talking when it’s clear you need to con­cen­trate on the road. “In fact, a good per­cent­age of the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween driv­ers and their pas­sen­gers tends to be about road con­di­tions and what other driv­ers are do­ing. In con­trast, a per­son on the other end of a phone is oblivious to your sur­round­ings. He or she can’t help iden­tify po­ten­tial driv­ing dan­gers and won’t stop talking be­cause you’re en­coun­ter­ing dif­fi­cult road con­di­tions.”

Why is it so dan­ger­ous? Be­cause cars travel at high speeds, Haslam says that you typ­i­cally have very little time to re­act in the event of an ac­ci­dent. “Col­li­sions hap­pen in split sec­onds. This makes any form of dis­trac­tion while driv­ing very dan­ger­ous.”

Ac­cord­ing to data col­lected by the Dis­cov­ery In­sure Driver Chal­lenge app, us­ing a cell­phone in­volves an av­er­age of 52 sec­onds of dis­tracted driv­ing. If you’re driv­ing at a speed of just 60 km/h, Haslam says that this is equiv­a­lent to driv­ing “blind” for one full kilo­me­tre.

“It’s es­ti­mated that roughly 90% of all ve­hi­cle crashes are caused by driver er­ror, and a large per­cent­age of these ac­ci­dents are due to driver dis­trac­tion,” she said.

MIN­IMIS­ING THE RISK

Talking on a cell­phone while driv­ing with­out a hands-free kit is il­le­gal in South Africa.

Many newer cars fea­ture in­te­grated Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, mean­ing you can con­nect your cell­phone and make calls on the go. This may make cell­phone use while driv­ing le­gal, but it doesn’t make it safe. If you need to make a call, Haslam ad­vises to do so be­fore you start driv­ing. “And, if you must an­swer a call you re­ceive when you’re al­ready on the road, care­fully pull over in a safe spot be­fore do­ing so.” There is sim­ply no safe way to use a phone while you’re driv­ing.

CLAIM­ING FOR A ROAD AC­CI­DENT CAUSED BY CELL­PHONE USE

If you’re se­ri­ously in­jured in a road ac­ci­dent that was caused by an­other driver, for ex­am­ple be­cause that per­son was us­ing a cell­phone, Haslam says you may be able to claim from the Road Ac­ci­dent Fund.

Haslam says that should you be in­volved in a road ac­ci­dent, it is worth­while seek­ing ad­vice from a law firm that spe­cialises in road ac­ci­dent claims. “Their per­sonal in­jury at­tor­neys and medico-le­gal team can as­sess your claim, help pre­pare sup­port­ing ev­i­dence and rep­re­sent you in le­gal pro­ceed­ings, giv­ing you the best chance of re­ceiv­ing the com­pen­sa­tion you de­serve,” she said.

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