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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2006, 14:00 GMT
What can you do while driving?
The Magazine answers...

North Wales Police handout image of Donna Maddock

A woman has been fined after being caught on camera applying make-up while driving. So what can you do while at the wheel?

With a compact mirror in one hand and an eye liner in the other, Donna Maddock applied her make-up. But this wasn't in her bedroom, the 22-year-old was driving at 32mph at the time.

She was caught by police who filmed her on a speed camera and has been fined 200 and had six points put on her licence after pleading guilty to careless driving. So what can you do while driving?

While certain things are most definitely against the law, with others it comes down to how the driver handles the car.

When it comes to things like eating, smoking, applying make-up, map reading and tuning in the car stereo, they are not against the law but drivers can be charged with careless driving or not being in proper control of their vehicle.


It comes down to the discretion of the police and in the past a motorist has been fined for eating an apple while driving and feasting on a Kit Kat.

Research suggests such simple actions can have a serious effect on driving skills. A study for the AA found that fiddling with the car stereo caused drivers to cross lanes, go off the road, go above the speed limit and be more at risk of a collision.

But if a driver's attention falls "far below" the standard required, they could be guilty of the more serious offence of dangerous driving, which is punishable with a fine of up to 5,000 and/or six months in prison. Most serious of all is death by dangerous driving, which can carry a sentence of up to 14 years.

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Driving while holding a mobile phone is a specific offence and is automatically punishable with a 30 fine. This will soon increase to 60 and three penalty points on a licence when the Road Safety Bill becomes law within the next few months.

This applies not just to phones but to all gadgets which send or receive data electronically, including PDAs and GPS navigation systems.

It is acceptable for drivers to use a mobile phone which is not handheld, such as one in a holder. So, in theory, drivers can use their PDAs as long as they are secured.

But, if it affects their driving they run the risk of being charged with careless driving, not being in proper control of their vehicle or dangerous driving.

And it seems most motorists commit these offences weekly. The average driver risks being pulled over by the police 10 times each week for a range of motoring offences, according to a recent survey by Churchill Car Insurance.

"Most drivers will be shocked by how many laws they break on their daily commute, " says a Churchill spokesman. "They seem to be completely unaware of their actions."

As a non driving pedestrian, I'm pretty aware of how people are driving -- you have to be in Brighton where it seems compulsory to fail to indicate. What constantly amazes me is the number of people nattering away with a phone in their hand and with half an eye on the road. I've lost count the number of times I've seen people drive through pedestrian crossings on their phones, completely unaware the lights were red. The worst nearly cost me my life: a woman illegally turned right at junction and drove straight through the pedestrian crossing I was on at the time: green man! -- I barely managed to leap out of the way in time. You could clearly see her nattering on her phone, looking out of her SIDE window. Don't these people know it's now illegal?
Matthew Hill, Brighton, England

Cars are a heavy mass of metal, which when driven at any speed are capeable of causing injury or death. The only thing that a driver should be doing is driving with due care and attention. I am as guilty as the next person of changing a tape or sparking a cigarette whilst driving, i have never used a mobile phone, handsfree or not. I would like to see much tougher penalties for those 'distracted' at the wheel, the distraction is usually a choice that the driver made, knowing full well that their abilities could be impaired but continue to do so due to over confidence in their abilities. So regardless of the outcome of their actions, if caught they should be accountable. Speed can be a factor in many accidents but is rarely the sole reason for an accident - that comes down to careless driving, not being in proper control of their vehicle or dangerous driving.
Bruce Martin, London

In my opinion there should be stricter guidelines for motorists to follow. The rules state that you can drink, eat and adjust stereo settings. What they don't state is the extent as to which motorists can undertake these tasks. There should be more definition with the rules. It should not be down to one persons (police person)opinion to state whether the motorist was legal or not.
Jon Osbourne, Caistor/Lincolnshire

This would appear to be another one of this Government's back door methods of forcing the public to do things they don't really want to do. In this case car sharing, because you need someone to turn the radio over for you, hold your telephone conversation for you and eat your apple.
Richard, Huntingdon

Driving is a privilege not a basic right ; do it safely and responsibly or let the law keep you off the road for the good of both drivers and pedestrians. On a daily basis we all see acts of idiocy on the road - drivers not paying attention, using mobile phones, speeding, chancing their luck. All too soon luck runs out and people get killed. A car is a dangerous weapon and with roads becoming ever busier I for one would support any move to keep the idiots off the road - yet many deaths caused by dangerous driving result in offensive and disproportionately small punishments.
Andrew, Sheffield

Now all we need is an effective way of stopping idiots using their 'phones whilst driving. There's nothing scary about a woman putting her make-up on when compared to a 40 tonne HGV driver on the motorway 'phoning someone. We need a Government TV campaign to highlight the dangers. This stupidity needs to be made as socially unacceptable as driving whilst drunk.
Rolando, Nottingham

At this rate, we'll soon be fined for talking to passengers, changing gear and using turn signals...
jd, Suffolk

The worst thing i ever saw was a woman who had one of those portable mini-hair straighteners, sitting at traffic lights in Washington DC. We were at red lights, and she had her head bent over and was furiously trying to get her hair-do finished before the lights changed! I didn't see whether she drove off doing this...
sara, London, UK

I'm always reminded how women can multi-task but men can't, perhaps this is a myth!
Rowan Hillery, York


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