I blame multitasking. These days we are all meant to be able to do loads of things at the same time. The problem is, of course, we can't. Not effectively.

It's a simple law of physics that we can't be in two places at once. But that doesn't seem to stop us trying. So what do we do instead?

Well, it seems we just ring each other up - normally while driving from point A to point B. "Phoney" drivers think that they can cope with the pressures of modern life better by talking it over - even if that means compromising their safety, plus that of their passengers, and anybody else unlucky enough to be in the vicinity.

You see them clutching their precious Nokia to their ear while attempting to turn right with their one free hand. Or they might be weaving in their lane for no apparent reason, not going particularly fast, but managing nevertheless to provide a moving road block to stop you getting past them in safety.

In the bad old days, I used to think that those drivers had had one too many. These days, a similarly negative effect is produced by holding a phone to your ear.

My particular bête noire is the motorway tailgater who looms into your rear mirror, and drives dangerously close to you, waiting for you to get out of the way. He would probably like to make a rude hand gesture except for the fact, yes, you've guessed it, he's holding a mobile phone.

And it's not just hardened commuters either. School-run mums have been identified by the Department for Transport as one of the guilty groups. So, too, are young people, for whom the mobile phone is an indispensable fashion accessory - even when they are driving.

But today, I hope, all that is going to change. Those "phoney" drivers will have to hang up. Under the Road Safety Act, motorists using hand-held phones at the wheel will today face a stiffer penalty - it's doubled from £30 to £60 - and three points on their licence.

And about time, too. It's actually been a specific offence since 2003 - not that it seems to have made a blind bit of difference. Despite a reported 250,000-plus prosecutions, the one-armed monster has continued to stalk our roads unabated for the past four years.

Now I hope that the full weight of the new law, plus a bit of social stigma, will see 27 February go down in history as the day we all put down our mobiles while driving.

So what do we do instead? More responsible drivers might be tempted to beat the ban on hand-held mobile phones by simply buying a hands-free kit for their cars. But I would argue they are still putting themselves and their passengers at risk. Even when you are hands-free, research has shown that you are four times more likely to crash because your concentration is still split. No call is so important that you should risk your life, or that of your passengers.

The best advice is to "switch off before you drive off". I am not sure if it will go down in history as a slogan to rival "clunk click every trip". But it's something to aspire to.

The author is head of media at the Institute of Advanced Motorists


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