We need to talk about hands-free

28/02/2024
Chris Ames

Police officers are being encouraged to make drivers aware of the safety risks of using hands-free mobile phones at the wheel, based on new research.

An Open University (OU) educational project has highlighted to police officers that hands-free phone use while driving is not a safe alternative to hand-held use.

Under the ‘We need to talk about hands-free’ project, 470 officers from England and Wales took part in an interactive video task designed by researchers at the OU.

Following the task, the officers' attitudes to the safety of legal hands-free mobile phone use by drivers changed significantly, with 88% reporting that in future encounters with phone-using drivers, they would explain the dangers of all phone use.

The Road Safety Trust (RST), which funded the project, said that while hands-free mobile phone use by drivers is not illegal, a vast body of research has shown it is no safer than hand-held phone use.

RST chief executive Ruth Purdie OBE said: ‘Evidence shows that hands-free is as dangerous as physically using a mobile phone. The cognitive distraction can increase crash risk, reduce hazard detection, and lead to poor situational awareness.

‘Therefore, it is vital, as this report highlights, that police officers are not recommending hands-free as a safe alternative.’

Dr Helen Wells, senior lecturer in Criminology at Keele University, who was involved in the research, said: ‘When a police officer stops someone for using their mobile phone illegally they have an opportunity to give safe or unsafe advice to a driver. Our project means that more officers will now give advice that will keep drivers safe, not just keep them out of trouble with the law.’

The National Police Chiefs’ Council is currently running a campaign until 10 March to crack down on people being distracted by their mobile phones while driving.

Chief Constable Jo Shiner, the Council's lead for roads policing, said: ‘I welcome any research which progresses our understanding of risk and how it can be removed from our roads.

‘This is a positive step forward in terms of preventing harm and reducing fatal and serious collisions. This work should be applauded and carefully considered by everyone who uses the roads.’

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