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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 10:42 GMT
Are mobiles more dangerous than drink-driving?
New research suggests that talking on a mobile phone while driving is more dangerous than being over the legal alcohol limit.

British scientists at the Transport Research Laboratory say that reaction times for a driver talking on a mobile are, on average, 30% slower than for one who is just over the legal alcohol limit.

Janet Anderson, MP, who is trying to push through a bill which would ban the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, said "It must be made crystal clear to drivers who insist on behaving in this way that they endanger the safety of the public".

Do you agree? Has talking on a mobile while driving ever put you into a dangerous situation?

This Talking Point was suggested by Rob Thurgood, England :

Using a mobile phone while driving: should it be illegal, even with a hands-free kit?

If you have any suggestions for Talking Points, please click here.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

It might be a good idea to have some more statistics on the dangers of driving a two ton projectile at speed whilst for example: tuning in your radio, selecting a CD/Tape, picking your nose, smoking, drinking soft drinks, yelling at you kids or arguing with your partner, doing your make-up, map reading, shaving. I've seen it all.
Driving Instructor, UK


If guilty drivers who use phones have the potential to walk away from court with only a fine after killing a child, what is the likelihood of people changing their attitudes?

Silverfox, UK
Perhaps the issue should be concerned with the level of deterrent currently in place? If guilty drivers who use phones have the potential to walk away from court with only a fine after killing a child walking along the pavement (as has happened recently) what is the likelihood of people changing their attitudes? Stiffer custodial penalties should be introduced and enforced and lifetime bans from driving for causing death by careless (and drunken) driving should be considered. If people realise that their own lives will be ruined as a result of taking another's then perhaps our roads may become a little safer.
Silverfox, UK

As a motorcycle rider in London life is difficult enough being noticed by some drivers, especially as I'm on the only type of vehicle that can make any real progress through the busy streets. When a driver is on a mobile phone (held to their ear) they cannot possibly be concentrating on what is going on round them. I have had a number of near misses with drivers while they have been on the phone; none of these have been my fault! The worst one was a 4x4 driver with one hand on his phone to his ear who almost drove straight into me, he didn't hit me because I took avoiding action, and he plainly just wasn't paying enough attention to driving!
Simon, UK

As a pedestrian, I have nearly been hit several times by drivers using cell phones. One time, as I crossed the street in a crosswalk at an intersection, a driver turned so close to me I could have easily reached into her window and taken the cell phone away. I instead yelled, "Watch out" and the driver was so startled to a pedestrian in such close proximity, that she yelled at me to "Watch" where I was going! Why is it that pedestrians following traffic laws should have to watch out for arrogant, distracted drivers like this one? Why should we have our lives put at greater risk simply because someone wants to catch up on gossip or do work and drive in an unsafe manner? If it is not an absolute emergency, save the conversation for the coffee shop or the office. You are putting the rest of us in danger.
Adina, US


I agree that the problems of smoking, talking to passengers, dealing with children, etc. are just as distracting

Alex Bailey, UK
I agree entirely with the sentiments where handheld phones are used, but like so many of the other people here I agree that the problems of smoking, talking to passengers, dealing with children, etc. are just as distracting. While I sympathise with anybody who is or has been involved in an accident with a mobile phone user, the real problem is lack of respect for the car and it's destructive power. The people who are driving dangerously while using mobile phones are invariably the same ones who pass on the inside, skip up the hard shoulder on motorways and drive far too fast in residential areas. The solution to this - spend less money on speed cameras and put traffic police back on the road to catch reckless drivers who are never caught by the speed cameras! Either that or we might as well go down the "dangerous dogs" road and get rid of all distractions and ban cars altogether!
Alex Bailey, UK

I often drive after having a pint or less, but would never drive and use my mobile phone - I have much more respect for my own and others safety.
Andrew, London, UK

Personally I don't think it should be banned. It is often unacceptable to use the phone whilst at the wheel, but at other times it's not unreasonable to do so. It seems that, as ever, legislation is being considered to deal with those incapable of assessing whether conditions permit such activity. The issue is not about phones/alcohol/'drugs'/, it's about judgement. Why should those who are evidently incapable of judging road conditions and what actions are appropriate, be given a license to drive?
Guy, UK


The use of a phone whilst driving is not just dangerous because of the actual action of holding the phone

Sairah, UK
The use of a phone whilst driving is not just dangerous because of the actual action of holding the phone. It is the fact that people assume that they are just as competent when driving whilst distracted by a phone conversation as they are without such a distraction. When you are drunk on the other hand, you know that what you are doing is wrong. On some level you are aware that you are not as competent a driver as you would be without the influence of alcohol. Dr Hoax from the UK illustrates this misconception very clearly. Perhaps it wouldn't be so dangerous if we actually admitted that it is a distraction, hands free or not.
Sairah, UK

Drivers are the last people to ask what affects their concentration. If we're to believe most of them they're quite capable of driving properly after ten pints while arguing with their partners over what time they'll be home on a mobile phone. It's a shame a lot of the people who have first hand experience of how fallacious this is are dead. A driver should be controlling his vehicle and aware of what is going on around him. This means no mobile phones at all, no absurdly loud in-car stereos and passengers that behave themselves and aren't a distraction to the driver. If you don't like it, don't drive.
Bill, UK

Driving when talking on a mobile dangerous? Not as dangerous as reading and writing text messages. Yes, people apparently do. That is scary!
Dylan Hayes, UK


Roadside hoardings such as the wonderbra 'hello boys' advert which certainly distracted me more than using my phone

Brian, Scotland
OK so what about the following eye distractions- In Car GPS/ routefinder systems, complex stereos, cigarette lighters and fumbling for your CD/last mint. Outside the car we also have roadside hoardings such as the wonderbra 'hello boys' advert which certainly distracted me more than using my phone would and actually caused me to take my eyes and mind off the road. Should we ban all of the above distractions? I don't use the phone in-car while driving in town, as there are too many pedestrians and cyclists to listen and look for. While on a midnight trip along a deserted dual carriageway it is, safer if not 100% safe. All in I agree that we need no new law but the police should be able to apply discretion to the existing 'Due care' laws to a given situation.
Brian, Scotland

They should be banned because they make people dangerously and that is scary because I deliver pizzas for a living and they get in my way.
Kevin Senior, USA

Hmm, well it's obvious that holding a mobile whilst driving is bad news... But what about the people who send text messages while driving? Yes, I have actually sat as a passenger when people have tried to do this. Mad.
Steve Jaques, England


I commute to work on a motorcycle, and the most unpredictable and dangerous drivers are people who drive and use a mobile at the same time

Eddie, UK
It is patently obvious that is dangerous using any kind of mobile phone whilst driving. I commute to work on a motorcycle, and the most unpredictable and dangerous drivers are people who drive and use a mobile at the same time. It is also obvious that if you are speaking to a fellow passenger there is a good chance that they may spot any potential problems if you are not concentrating; does a handsfree mobile offer this extra protection? Of course it doesn't. The use of mobiles whilst driving should be treated the same as a drink driving offence.
Eddie, UK

As a motorcyclist I see proof that this study is correct everyday. People using mobiles, hands free or otherwise do not realise that their ability to keep their car in a straight line is impaired. They are less likely to use their mirrors and generally drive poorly. Driving is a dangerous business. All distractions including radios, conversations with passengers, smoking etc. should be banned.
Russell, UK

Driving while talking on a mobile is no more dangerous than adjusting the radio or indeed, talking to a passenger. The real danger is, however, sending text messages on mobile phones. This is dangerous and completely distracts your attention while driving.
Darren Mansell, UK


People who drive while using mobiles have a lot in common with drink drivers

S Smith, UK
People who drive while using mobiles have a lot in common with drink drivers. They have an inflated sense of their own ability, they are usually not aware of their mistakes; they make lame excuses to justify their stupidity and are generally ignorant. There was no need for a scientific study to prove this - you only have to drive around to see the evidence. A few people are even willing to admit their stupidity by posting the predictable excuses on here.
S Smith, UK

Where is Janet Anderson's constituency? I presume her NHS' waiting lists are empty, there is zero crime and free door to door transport for her to be wasting her time and my tax money.
Neil Pearce, London, England

Good drivers are smart enough to make the cell phone conversation secondary when driving conditions warrant it. Perhaps the issue isn't cell phones, but the incredible poor quality of driver today instead.
Johdi, Canada

The times I have witnessed people using a mobile phone whilst driving is numerous. I believe something should be done by the government ASAP before another innocent life is lost.
Elaine, UK


Driving while using any kind of mobile is dangerous and should be illegal

Gareth, UK
The idea that using a hands free phone while driving is the same as talking to a passenger is flawed. A passenger does not demand the same level of attention as someone talking on a mobile, not only that but as a passenger in the same vehicle they are able to react subtly to the driving conditions minimising distraction at important and dangerous times. Driving while using any kind of mobile is dangerous and should be illegal.
Gareth, UK

Although driving whilst holding a conversation on a mobile phone is dangerous due to lack of concentration (assuming it's a hands free and therefore ignoring any control of vehicle issues) it is a completely different and far less serious danger than being drunk in charge of a vehicle. Drunk drivers are not properly in control of their vehicle and every decision they make is compromised.
John Lee, England

We have seen sense here on the Isle of Man and banned use of mobile phones while driving over a year ago follow a couple of nasty accidents. The offence is treated the same as drinking and driving and carries very heavy fines. Frequent offenders face jail and a driving ban and quite rightly so. Shame the UK Government didn't follow suit with a similar law as it certainly saves lives.
David LJ, Isle of Man UK


I have to agree that an absolute ban is sensible, both for handheld and handsfree

Paul, UK
I have to agree that an absolute ban is sensible, both for handheld and handsfree. The company I work for has made it a dismissible offence in our terms and conditions and I support that position entirely. If your car is your office then stop and talk, you can't drive, talk and take notes.
Paul, UK

I cycle in London. All too often drivers put my life in danger, e.g. overtaking me before immediately turning left, or pulling out without looking. Such idiots are usually on the phone, and rarely even notice what they've done. It's clear to me that their concentration is reduced.
Michael Grazebrook, UK

Charlie, UK - did you not read the header? Nobody is saying that drinking and driving is safe, far from it - all they've said is that someone engaging in a telephone conversation while driving can be shown to be more dangerous than someone who is 'just over the legal alcohol limit' I wouldn't take that as a recommendation to drink and drive, I also wouldn't advise people to use a mobile whilst driving. It's just common sense, if concentrating on something other than your driving increases the risk of an accident - don't do it. Drivers don't always know what's best.
Aaron, UK

There is no way anybody could claim that talking on a mobile is more dangerous than drink driving. What exactly is the problem that causes the dramatic decrease in reaction times? Is it the talking? If so, are we to ban all talking in cars? Is it the holding of the phone? If so, what about those drivers that drive one handed? Are the police to stop anybody who does not have both hands on the wheel. Are we to ban cars with manual gears? I personally, question the accuracy of this "research".
Charlie, UK


Distractions whilst driving? Why not ban passengers, children, pets, radio etc.?

John Richards, UK
Distractions whilst driving? Why not ban passengers, children, pets, radio etc.? Having used a handsfree carphone for the past 10 years I am certain that it is no more of a distraction than any of the above. Why is speaking to a microphone any different to speaking to a passenger? PS I have regularly seen Police officers using mobiles and radios (hand held) whilst driving!!
John Richards, UK

Driving hands free is no more dangerous than talking to someone sat next to you. Least you have both hands on the wheel and are in full control. What is dangerous is people smoking when driving. Reaching for cigarettes, lighting and what happens if it falls into your lap? This is far more dangerous as they spend less time with both hands on the wheel yet no one cares about that.
Craig - UK, UK

I fully agree with the conclusion that mobile phones are far greater danger than drunken driving. Mobile phone is a danger also for pedestrians. They walk and talk and no more are in control where they go or where they place their feet. When I see those people either walking or driving my first impression is that again one monkey let loose from the zoo with a toy.
Peter, Finland


It is time to ban people from using hand held mobiles in the car

Georgina Grant, UK
It is time to ban people from using hand held mobiles in the car. Many times I have seen cars incorrectly steered because the driver only has one hand on the wheel. I do have a mobile phone, but do not use it in the car. I cannot understand why people feel they need to be connected all day every day. After all, with voicemail, they can always ring back when convenient.
Georgina Grant, UK

Did these same researchers also test drivers with: (1) High volume sub-woofered in-car hi-fi systems? (2) A backseat full of bored and noisy children? (3) A backseat driver giving constant advice? (4) Their favourite sing-a-long music on the radio? Come on. Everyone knows there are umpteen distractions that drivers have to put up with. Let's judge distractions on the basis of deaths and accidents - not on theoretical extrapolations from laboratory experiments.
Robert Crisp, UK

Hand held mobiles are dangerous, but a proper hands free fitted kit is much safer. The 'in the ear' variety are just as distracting as holding a phone, trying to find it when it falls out your ear. I spend maybe an hour a day on the phone in the car on a good quality fitted kit. If I'm driving early and start feeling tired and there is nowhere to stop (e.g. between services on a motorway) the sure way to improve reactions for me is to have a conversation on the phone. It all depends on how hard or stressful the conversation is. We need to educate on how to use them and provide more safe areas for drivers to stop and have breaks. How safe do you feel stopping in a lay-by at night on a dark dual carriageway.
Paul, UK


Being deep in conversation the driver was as shocked to see me in front of his bonnet

L Gould, England
As a pedestrian I've nearly been run over by a driver on the phone. Being deep in conversation the driver was as shocked to see me in front of his bonnet, as I was to see him. We get engrossed in our conversations on the phone. Especially, when the person at the other end forgets we're driving. We should ban the driver from using a mobile phone while driving.
L Gould, England

Why is it that drivers of executive cars leave their usual habitat of lane 3 on motorways to lane 1 with a reduction in speed when they are on the phone? If there is no effect on the concentration then this would not be necessary. The scariest by far though are the truckers using them to be talked in to places.
Jenni, Bristol, England

There is no doubt in my mind that using a mobile phone, hands free or otherwise, distracts the driver. The previous commentators don't realise that hearing is the most dominant sense; read this news properly, its true! A law should be introduced but I would guess that despite being highly a visible crime, police would not enforce it. I ride a motorcycle to work and frequently see some idiot weaving all over the road, pulling out of junctions etc whilst making their important phone calls.
G Smyth, Scotland


Hands-free phones are better but still distract the driver if engaged in a heated discussion whilst trying to negotiate heavy traffic on a roundabout or motorway

John Moonie, Scotland
Hands-free phones are better but still distract the driver if engaged in a heated discussion whilst trying to negotiate heavy traffic on a roundabout or motorway. E.g. a driver of heavy lorry seen trying to use his mobile in one hand while steering with his elbow and with a cigarette in the other hand. I would not like to be anywhere near him although this is an actual example.
John Moonie, Scotland

Do people using phones drive excessively slowly, weave all over the road, fall asleep at the wheel, speed excessively, and take stupid risks? Yes - but not because of their phones.
Paul Charters, England

Surely any such ban would be irrelevant? Is it not already an offence under 'Due care and attention'?
Alistair, UK

This research is no proof, but I believe that using a mobile phone whilst driving is lethal. People must accept that a car takes a lot of driving, and they should concentrate on that task alone. There is no excuse for it. What price someone's life?
Andy Brown, UK

Edward, UK. I am a motorcyclist too. I have been cut up on a roundabout by someone using a mobile phone. The offending driver then cut up another car driver before driving off almost unaware of what she'd done. Its dangerous and we have seen that it causes accidents. Ban it now - no excuses.
Tony, UK


The driver didn't even see my emergency stop. She was dialling on her mobile!

Edward, UK
I am a motorcyclist. The only time I have felt that my life was in danger was when a car came out from a side road, turning right in front of me. The driver didn't even see my emergency stop. This was on the A40. When I caught up with her, I saw that she was dialling on her mobile! I reported her to the Police but I doubt anything happened.
Edward, UK

Most people cannot even continue walking sensibly and use their mobile, let alone drive and use one. I see people quite often taking corners at high speeds just because they cannot change down gear and steer. Ban them!
Duncan, UK


Has any research been done to establish the affect of a passenger/driver conversation on response times and concentration?

Cheryll, England
Has any research been done to establish the affect of a passenger/driver conversation on response times and concentration? I would be interested to see if there is a difference between that and hands free mobile phone conversation.
Cheryll, England

Even hands-free kits are more distracting than talking to a passenger. I've had a couple of close shaves when a passenger with the driver using one, and I've given up my own after noticing my reactions were seriously degraded. I've nearly had an accident with other people using mobiles every week since I started driving any distance to work. Dr Hoaxe, Martin - try evidence rather than arrogance. No conversation is that important you don't have time to pull over and answer it.
Alun, UK

I live in Central London and get nearly flattened by traffic on a daily basis. The vast majority of culprits are 'high-flying City-types' driving new cars both too fast and without paying attention to traffic lights, crossings, and road markings. Once I've dodged out of the way, it makes me livid to see a phone glued to the ear of the driver (hands-free kits? - don't make me laugh!). At the same time we should ban smoking, reading, putting on make-up and cutting nails at the wheel - all of which I've seen in the last 6 months.
Richard, UK


Anything which distracts a driver increases risk, including talking to passengers

Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
Certainly driving while using a hand-held should be illegal, in fact I believe it already is. Hands free phones are a rather more debatable issue. Of course anything which distracts a driver increases risk, including talking to passengers (especially with women, who all seem to need to look at whoever they talk to). But you can't realistically eliminate all risks from driving. I'd like to see hands-free phones accept verbal commands, rather than require complex button pushing.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

Stirling Moss tells the story of a time he was rallying down a mountainside road with his codriver reading pace notes to him over a (then new invention) in-car intercom. Moss and his car reached the bottom of the mountain safely, but he turned to his co-driver and said, "the intercom must have broken, I didn't hear a word you said." Moss told this story to a neurosurgeon he met at a society do who said "The intercom probably hadn't broken, but your brain was too busy keeping you alive to waste its time processing speech." Your cognitive resources are limited, you cannot drive safely and devote attention to a phone call, and your brain just cannot do both fully. Why do most drivers turn down the car radio at junctions? Ban phone use in cars, that there is a controversy at all just shows that the vested interest of the selfing, uncaring and dangerous driver is pretty vocal.
Mark, UK

It is not possible to drive safely with one hand. End of story. On top of that they are a distraction in operation as well as following the conversation. In my view they should be illegal to use unless the car is stationery.
John, France


The whole business of defining what is meant by being 'in control a vehicle' needs to be revisited

John Brownlee, England
Having a conversation, of any kind, in a car whilst driving can cause the driver to lose concentration on their prime objective, which is the safe control of the car. Normally, when the other half of the conversation is also a driver and is in the front seat of the car, the conversation is 'paused' or modified to cope with traffic/road conditions. However, when the other half of the conversation is not a driver, is in the back of the car, is a number of children all demanding attention or is in some other location at the end of the phone; then concentration, or the conversation, can be seriously impaired. When the additional burden of devoting one hand to holding the phone is added the drivers concentration can be very seriously impaired. The whole business of defining what is meant by being 'in control a vehicle' needs to be revisited and an assessment made of what are, and what are not, acceptable driver distractions. As to comparing the use of a mobile phone whilst driving with driving whilst under the influence of alcohol - as they were doing on all the media this morning - is ridiculous unless you specify the level of blood alcohol. That's like comparing shellfish with rhubarb.
John Brownlee, England

We should look at other dangerous distractions that car drivers undertake as well. Most importantly people fumbling about for a cigarette and a lighter, then lighting it and also the potential for the hot ash ending up in their lap. How many accidents are caused this way? The system and the media have had a go at eating whilst driving and now using mobile phones, which are both valid points. Now I think it's time to highlight the dangers of smoking whilst driving (as well as the damage it causes the driver's health, but that's another issue)
Roger Hunt, England

I'd like to see some analysis of this. The dangerous times are answering and making the call. Once you've connected to the other end, it should be no more dangerous than talking to a passenger in the car. All this assumes that you are using a hands-free kit. I'd like to see an absolute ban on driving one-handed, holding a phone to your ear, with guidance on how to use a hands-free kit safely - e.g. choose a stretch of long straight road with no hazards before answering/dialling. Let's apply common sense and not be draconian.
Martin, England

My car is an extension to my office. While driving, only when using two phones, does it impair my ability to steer other than in straight lines.
Dr Hoaxe, UK

Twice this month I've been on my phone for a couple of hours (for free) and just concentrating on the conversation was wearing enough let alone driving on top of it. With hands-free sets available there's no excuse. But there's always a strand of arrogant driver who believe they can either drink or take drugs and still drive, and this is the next menace that will claim lives if allowed.
Ken, UK

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Media reports
Spain clamps down on dangerous driving
17 Jul 01 | Health
'Ban mobiles when driving'
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