Making a phone call while you’re driving and you’re not hands-free is dangerous – that’s a well-known fact. It’s also against the law. Did you know that an average of 68 people are caught and charged with using a mobile phone on Irish roads every day? And it’s not just making phone calls either. Many drivers stopped by gardai are using their smartphones to post to social media, take selfies and even live stream behind the wheel.
Now seems like an excellent time to remind ourselves what is and isn’t allowed, and share some valuable tips to help all drivers stay within the law.
What’s the legal position?
In a nutshell, Irish Law says that it is an offence to hold a mobile phone in your hand or any other part of your body while driving a car. What you do with the phone you’re holding is immaterial – it is equally illegal to use your mobile phone for calls, texts or internet browsing.
The law was tightened in 2014 to specifically deal with the problem of texting behind the wheel. New road safety regulations now mean a mandatory court summons and a fine (now ¬80) in addition to 3 penalty points on your licence.
By comparison, UK legislation to ban the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, including while the vehicle is stationary but with the engine running, came into force in 2003. Penalties were increased substantially in March 2017. You now face a £200 fine and 6 points on your licence if you get caught breaking the law.
How do mobile phones affect driving behaviour?
It is all too easy to underestimate how much of a distraction a mobile phone in the car can be. The scary fact is that you only need to take your eyes off the road for a split second in order to lose control of your vehicle and potentially cause an accident and perhaps even personal injury to others. For instance, a car moving at the speed of 50kmh travels 14 metres in a single second – which doesn’t give much time to react.
Add mobile phone use into the equation and international research has identified several ways in which driving behaviour may be affected, including greater difficulties with
- Keeping in lane
- Driving at the correct speed
- Keeping a safe distance from the car in front
- Judging gaps in traffic correctly
- Driver distraction is a huge danger
It’s obvious that a distracted driver is more likely to cause an accident, with potentially life-threatening consequences. Using or holding a mobile phone while driving is a prime example of how the driver’s attention might be diverted away from keeping his eyes on the road. That’s why, legally, the only time a driver is permitted to use a hand-held mobile phone in the car is in an emergency, to call an emergency number – such as 112 or 999.
But what about hands-free kits? Well, legally this would get you off the hook. Drivers are permitted to use their mobile phone hands-free while driving. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that even if you don’t physically hold the device, your concentration will still be diluted. If you’re not fully focused
on your driving, you could still be putting other people’s lives at risk. Also, don’t forget that even with a hands-free phone securely held in its cradle, you cannot legally dial a number, send a text or an email or browse the web unless the system is voice operated.
And even with a hands-free phone kit, you could still be prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention. If found guilty, your driving licence will be endorsed or you could even receive a temporary driving ban.
What’s more, if your mobile phone use behind the wheel causes a collision or accident, any other affected individuals – be they drivers or passengers in other cars, or pedestrians – could bring a personal injury claim against you. This could mean long and costly legal procedures as well as higher motor insurance premiums in the future.
Top mobile phone tips for drivers
While using a mobile device is now second nature to most of us, so is driving a car. Here are some useful tips that allow you to safely combine these two everyday activities:
- Before you set off in the car, ensure that your phone is either switched off, put in ‘silent’ or ‘airplane’ mode.
- Switch to Voicemail so that people can leave messages, which you can listen to and reply when you’ve arrived at your destination.
- If you must use your mobile phone during the car journey, park in a safe place and switch the engine off before you check messages or make calls.
- Never look up a number, take notes, send messages or use the internet while driving.
- While you’re driving, make sure you do not hold a mobile phone in your hand or support it with another body part, e.g. cradle between chin and shoulder.
- If you must use your mobile device while driving, install a hands-free kit or Bluetooth system into the vehicle, but do be aware that this is still a distraction.