Dealing with the most dangerous part of a car

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The Independent Online

Even the most enthusiastic driver should agree that man and machine will not be in perfect harmony if man (or woman) is trying to operate a mobile phone at the same time as controlling their ultimate driving machine. People using mobile phones behind the wheel are four times more likely to have an accident than other motorists. That it is dangerous is agreed; what is in dispute is what to do about it.

Even the most enthusiastic driver should agree that man and machine will not be in perfect harmony if man (or woman) is trying to operate a mobile phone at the same time as controlling their ultimate driving machine. People using mobile phones behind the wheel are four times more likely to have an accident than other motorists. That it is dangerous is agreed; what is in dispute is what to do about it.

The Department of Transport is considering making it a specific criminal offence. The AA, echoing the other lobbyists for the nation's motorists, says that "we cannot have a law banning the use of mobiles without one to ban eating, drinking, applying make-up or shaving for that matter." It might be added that some drivers have been known to try to nearly all of these during one short motorway sprint.

But this is not a trivial issue. People's lives, not just their own, are endangered by these arrogant drivers. The present law, which requires motorists to keep proper control of their vehicle, can cope with applying lipstick, but it is clearly not a sufficient deterrent for the determined mobile user, and the creation of a specific offence would remove any lingering doubts that driving at 90mph down the M1 one-handed with a mobile jammed between jaw and shoulder is acceptable.

To recycle an old joke, the most dangerous component in a car is the nut behind the wheel. This has never been more true than today, for the safety features fitted to even the cheapest cars on the market represent an enormous leap forward on even a decade ago, largely because of intense consumer pressure. It is odd, then, that while we demand cars with front and side air bags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones and other sophisticated safety technology, we seem so relaxed about avoiding accidents in the first place.

There is some evidence that the cocoon-like atmosphere of modern cars is giving us a false sense of security. A ban on using mobile phones on the move might remind us that it is much better to avoid crashes than to survive them. As with drink-driving, once commonplace, we might even make it socially unacceptable. The Government should press on with its plans.

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