No matter where you live, chances are there’s a great many things you can do behind the wheel of your car that’ll result in you getting fined, arrested, or facing jail time. There’s the peculiar ones – like leaving your keys inside an unattended vehicle, taking both hands off the wheel whilst waiting at a stop light, or simply honking the horn to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ to someone – all of which could all see you on the receiving end of a fine. Then there are the no brainers – like exceeding the nominated speed limit for the road, driving while under the influence of alcohol, or driving without wearing a seatbelt. Despite how silly some laws may sound, there’s usually sound logic behind why they’ve all been put there in the first place – to minimise risk, save lives and generally make the road a more harmonious place to be.
But ask yourself this – when was the last time you broke the speed limit, either on purpose or accidentally? Or honked the horn whilst leaving a friend’s house? Or drove with your foglights on when there wasn’t any fog around? Recently, I’d guess. And we haven’t even touched on the granddaddy of them all – driving while using your mobile phone.
How long has it been since you last used your phone while driving? And to clarify, using your phone while driving encompasses everything from glancing at your phone for 1 second while waiting at a red light, to having a full-blown text conversation with someone whilst sitting on 110km/h in the outside lane of a motorway – and everything else in-between. Also recently, I’d guess – and it’s not just you.
Spotting other motorists on their mobile phones while driving is like child’s play these days, if you know what to look for. People slumped with their heads down at the lights, drivers whose eyes dart rapidly between the road ahead and the direction of their crotches, or drivers in front of you who seem to be having a hard time of staying in their own lane. They’re all signs – and despite the hefty fines of being caught where I live ($365 and 3 demerit points), I can usually spot at least 3 or 4 drivers using their mobile phones on my short 15-minute commute to work each day.
The logic here is no matter how large the fines are, people are going to continue breaking the law and using their mobile phones while behind the wheel of a car (well, right up until cars are fully-autonomous) and I for one think it is time we addressed the issue, but not in the way you might expect.
If you use your phone while driving, I could give you a virtual ‘rap over the knuckles’ and detail the reasons why I think you’re the scum of the earth, but we all know that isn’t going to achieve anything, don’t we? After all, you’ve heard it all before and it hasn’t been enough to make you stop. So here’s what I’m proposing instead – we try and minimise the risk to yourself and those around you..
Using your mobile phone while driving
Use your mobile phone only when the car is stationary
In most circumstances, using your mobile phone while the car is stationary is probably the safest option available. Whether you’ve stopped at a red light or simply stuck in traffic, the safety risks of using your mobile phone should be quite low here. However this situation also has the greatest potential to annoy your fellow motorists.
If you’re first in line at a stop light with a long queue of cars behind you, consider not using your phone at all – or at least ensure that you’re keeping an extremely close eye on the light sequence and other traffic movements, so you won’t be caught off-guard when your light goes green. Pulling away late from a green light will annoy the drivers behind you to no end, and if the light cycle is quick, it’ll mean that less of them will make it through the intersection before the light goes red again. So pay attention and don’t get carried away with your phone, or you might be on the receiving end of some mild road rage down the road.
If you’re a few cars back in the red light queue, you’ll still need to pay attention to when the light goes green, but not with the same amount of urgency. You’ll have a lot more time to prepare, as all the motorists in front of you have to react to the green light and pull away first, before you do.
Conversely, if you’re in a traffic jam where all the cars around you are crawling along and constantly stopping and starting, there’s a high risk of rear-ending the car in front if you’re looking at your phone while rolling. In situations like that, I’d advise that you only glance at your phone while your car is stationary, or if you’re rolling with a largr gap between your car and the one in front. Remember – if you’re looking down and the car in front suddenly stops, you might not even see the accident coming, or not have enough time to react when you look up and see a crash about to happen.
The higher the speed, the higher the risk
This point is exactly as the title says. If you’re using your mobile phone while driving at high speeds, you’re putting yourself (and the motorists around you) at a much higher risk of being involved in an accident – so don’t be an idiot about it. If you’ve decided that you absolutely have to use your phone at highway speeds, you should definitely ensure that its usage remains secondary to the task of driving. That is, ensure that you spend more time looking at the road ahead, and cars around you, in comparison to the amount of time you spend looking at your mobile phone. And I don’t just mean a 60-40 driving-to-phone split, but more like 80-20 or 90-10. You really don’t want to be mucking around here.
It is also important to consider the list of potential accidents that could happen – such as hitting cars which have merged into your lane while you’re not looking, drifting our of your lane and having a head-on accident (or hitting an object on the roadside), or striking pedestrians or animals which might have attempted to cross the road in front of you. Accidents are just that – things you didn’t expect or see coming.
Hold your phone in your non-dominant hand
The very act of using your mobile phone generally means you’re going to be holding it with one of your hands – so it is recommended that you go with your non-dominant hand. Most drivers could probably pick which of their arms is better at using the steering wheel compared to the other one – so make sure the dominant arm is the one you leave on the wheel. While it might not help much in the event of an accident, the logic here is that it makes sense to have your better arm on the wheel to give you greater control over the vehicle, or to ensure that your vehicle keeps to the centre of the lane a bit more cleanly.
If you drive a car with a manual gearbox, it is also important to consider when you might need to change gear next, and ensure that you put your phone down well in advance.
Never rest your phone in front of the instrument cluster
Some motorists might be tempted to rest their mobile phone on the ledge directly in front of their car’s instrument cluster – but here’s why you might not want to do that. Aside from being another reason for the police to pull you over, it also prevents you from seeing the information displayed on the one or more gauges or warning lights which your phone is obscuring.
Also, far more importantly, is the fact that you’ll probably be reaching through your steering wheel to pick the phone up and put it back again – and that is extremely dangerous. I’ve personally witnessed an accident where a truck driver reached through his steering wheel to pick up his phone mid corner, and his own arm prevented him from straightening the steering wheel after the corner finished. This one simple mistake caused his truck to crash into a line of parked cars and damage them all pretty badly (one was owned by a friend of mine and her car was a write off) although it could have been a lot worse if he was traveling at higher speeds of if there were pedestrians in the area.
So don’t reach through your steering wheel at any time, okay?
Hands-free methods are better
One of the safer options available would be to take advantage of your mobile phone’s hands-free functions, in order to perform talk and text functions via voice activation while driving. Whether it be Siri, Google Now or Cortana, you can use your phone’s in-built helpers to initiate phone calls, send text messages, set GPS destinations and more.
Pick your mobile phone using moments carefully
Should you decide to use your mobile phone while driving, we’d recommend that you choose your moments carefully. Consider how well you know the road you’re currently travelling on, what time it is, what the traffic density is like, and how many pedestrians are walking in the area. So using your mobile while driving down an empty street early in the morning for example might present very little risk to yourself and others, in comparison to using your phone while travelling through a busy school zone at 3pm for example, which in my personal opinion should result in you being sent straight to jail – because it isn’t just your safety you’re putting at risk there.
So remember that while there isn’t really any completely safe moments to use your mobile phone whilst driving, you should definitely evaluate the conditions first and weigh up the risks to you and everyone else nearby.
Take responsibility for your actions, and the fines you might incur
Before you use your mobile phone while driving, it is worth researching the traffic laws which relate to your local area and find out what you could potentially be fined for, and the dollar and points values attached to those fines. As we mentioned at the start of this article, the laws and fines have been put in place in an effort to reduce accidents and save lives, which brings us on to one final thing to think about.
Statistics reveal that using your mobile phone whilst driving puts you at a higher risk of having an accident – and it is up to you and your conscience to decide whether you’re willing to take that risk. The potential accident you might have could range from being just a bit of panel damage from rear-ending a car at low speeds, all the way through to something absolutely life-shattering like hitting and killing a cyclist or pedestrian while you weren’t paying attention.
You’d be looking at jail time, and living out the rest of your life knowing you took someone’s life just because you had to send a message that apparently couldn’t wait until you reached your destination.
What are your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments section below.