Today’s London Telegraph leads with this over-the-top story that drivers could now face jail for using their mobile phones or arsing around with any device whilst in the car…
Motorists caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving could be jailed for two years under tough new guidelines issued today by prosecutors.
Drivers who adjust sat-navs, tinker with MP3 music players such as iPods or send text messages at the wheel could also face prison sentences.
Prosecutions will be brought if by using the equipment a motorist is judged to have posed a danger to other drivers, such as causing another car to swerve.
Using a hand-held mobile while driving was outlawed in 2003, but it is estimated that half a million motorists flout the ban each day.
Existing guidelines restricted prosecutors to pursuing only a charge of careless driving, for which the maximum fine is £5,000 along with up to nine points on a motorist’s licence.
Now, I reckon penalties for using phones (or other similar equipment) whilst driving are a good thing. I think ‘making it illegal’ is a good thing. It’s really been effective — anecdotally — in the UK. Pull out your handset whilst you’re driving and your passengers are likely to have a fit. The current fines and penalty points have been instrumental in making it socially unacceptable. People still use mobiles and drive, yes. Nutcases. Accidents still do happen — fatal accidents and that’s terrible. However I’m not sure that threatening jail will be more of a deterrent. People who use their mobiles whilst driving are going to continue to do it anyway. Or, on the other hand, perhaps a jail term will be sufficient to dissuade the half million motorists flouting the ban at the moment.
For that matter, using hands-free kits — the legal and acceptable method of communicating whilst driving — is far from safe. I’ve tried using the built-in systems on various cars recently: Each one need some sort of attention, button pressing and knob twiddling, especially when someone calls. You generally have to look at a screen to see who’s calling, usually just as the proverbial old lady is crossing the street. If you’re talking jail terms, you’re serious… ergo you should be banning handsfree kits (whatever way you look at it, it’s a distraction from driving). Ban sat-nav. Particularly the TomTom when it falls off your windshield as you’re doing 70mph in the rain surrounded by other nutters doing the same speed. Ban radios and CD players. Don’t just ban them: Actually rip them out of cars. If you’re talking jail, then get serious about all the other currently legal distractions.
I’ve read quite a few news items, if memory serves, where drivers have been texting and ended up killing other road users as a result. Again, if memory serves, I think most of the protagonists were given jail sentences for various degrees of murder or manslaughter.
Being here in San Francisco, it’s genuinely alarming when the taxi driver is speeding up and down the hills a la Steve McQueen from Bullit, yapping on his (shit, old) mobile phone and paying scant attention to the other traffic and pedestrians… and doing so legally…