Baroness Pidding: Don’t use your phone when driving. Whatever it is, it can and will wait

Posted On: 
17th November 2017

Conservative peer & former chairman of the National Conservative Convention, Baroness Pidding, writes following her question in the House of Lords on the impact of an increase in the number of penalty points imposed under a fixed-penalty notice, issued to drivers caught using a hand-held mobile phone.

Credit: 
PA

Using a hand-held device while driving should be socially unacceptable. This statement seems obvious, but unfortunately at present it is not reflective of any reality.
 
We would object to somebody wanting to drive when intoxicated, yet we seem to lose our voice when it comes to reminding drivers not to use their device behind the wheel. 
 
If a friend is giving you a lift, they’re doing you a favour, they’re the driver and you feel like it’s not your place to comment. Indeed, when you’re driving, you need to take that call, it’s just so important…It’s not. 
 
Between 2011 and 2015 there were 2106 accidents, killing 103 people, because the driver was distracted by their phone. 
 
How many of those people would still be alive today if using a hand-held device whilst driving was as socially unacceptable as drink driving? How many accidents and disruptions on our roads could be avoided? 
 
According to the Virginia Tech Transport Institute, texting while driving increases the risk of collision 23 times over. Another American organisation, the National Safety Council, claims that 21% of all accidents involve people talking on their phones. I doubt that it is much different this side of the pond. 
 
I raised this in a House of Lords debate last year; arguing that prevention was the best cure. Yes, increases in fixed rate penalties and fines would help. Yet to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities on our roads, we need to make it as socially unacceptable as drink driving. 
 
Earlier this week I asked the Lords Transport Minister, Baroness Sugg, what steps the government is taking to make using a hand-held device whilst driving socially unacceptable. I was pointed to THINK!
 
The government has been running the THINK! Campaign since March. It’s all hard-hitting stuff, and much like the name suggests it does make you alert of the dangers and think about your behaviour when you are driving. 
 
Unfortunately, we’re just not seeing enough of it. I have had to actively seek out this public awareness campaign. I believe that we should be constantly bombarded with the messages. No matter how powerful the message is, it will not resonate if no one is there to listen. The campaign needs to be more visible.
 
At present, it still seems admissible to many people to use their hand-held devices when driving; although they may now be doing so more covertly. But if seeing someone using a hand-held device behind the wheel doesn't trigger the same reaction as seeing someone driving intoxicated, accidents will continue to happen. 
 
If it does become socially unacceptable, this new social norm would follow us as drivers everywhere, in the way that an officer enforcing the law simply cannot. So, it is a more effective strategy than merely increasing penalties.

We need to be policing our own behaviour. It’s easy for us to know not to get behind the wheel after a few drinks, it ought to be just as easy to know not to drive and use a hand-held device. 

Based on anecdotal evidence from Thames Valley Police, who are doing incredible work in this area, driver behaviour is starting to shift – so a change is possible. However, we cannot be complacent, we must push this issue. 
 
On an individual scale, you can make a difference, nag the driver if they’re on the phone, and most importantly THINK! Don’t use your phone when driving. Whatever it is, it can and will wait. 

Baroness Pidding CBE is a Conservative peer