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Mobile phones and hazard perception: lessons for businesses

4 May 2016

Drivers holding a hands-free mobile telephone conversation faced the same risks as those posed by already-banned hand-held phones, but employers were more likely to adopt a pragmatic attitude to the distraction, according to Professor David Crundall, of Nottingham Trent University speaking at a business champions' event on 3rd May.

The use of a hand-held telephone has been banned since 2003 and numerous studies, some undertaken by Professor Crundall, have highlighted that the distraction danger as a result of a hands-free mobile phone conversation when driving was equally as dangerous.

“There is a public perception that having a conversation on a hands-free telephone is safe, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he told delegates.

While a number of event delegates revealed their employers banned the use of all mobile telephones when driving, Professor Crundall indicated that despite the studies he believed many organisations would take a more pragmatic approach.

“One of the reasons why there is no ban on hands-free phones is because it is difficult to police and mobile communications has a role to play within the business community and the wider economy”, he said.

Although acknowledging that “hands-free communication is very important for business”, Professor Crundall said they were “dangerous to use when driving” and calls should be limited as much as possible.

He highlighted that studies showed most hands-free telephone calls were instigated by drivers rather than being incoming and that drivers often under estimated how difficult and distracting such conversations could be while on the road.

Professor Crundall urged employers to tell drivers to “go silent” during a telephone call if driving demands were high and to introduce “pause phrases” into their conversations

“Not using a hands-free telephone can have a big knock on effect on business, but drivers should feel OK to go silent. There should be no social stigma to dropping out of a mobile telephone conversation for a few seconds,” he said.

Professor Crundall also suggested that drivers should compensate for the distraction of holding a hands-free mobile phone conversation by reducing their speed and leaving more space between them and the vehicle ahead.

A mobile phone conversation is acknowledged to be a major driving distraction and will impact on a driver’s ability to predict hazards on the road, said Professor Crundall.

“Drivers need to spend as much time trying to predict where the next hazard is coming from as possible,” he said.

He explained how experienced drivers were more aware than novice drivers as to where to look for hazards when driving notably in scanning to the left and right rather than only looking straight ahead.

As a result experienced drivers were likely to spot a hazard, process the information and take remedial action quicker than a novice driver.

However, in the workplace so-called ‘experienced drivers’ could become novice drivers through changing circumstances that might include: driving a different vehicle to the norm for the first time or driving in a foreign country.

“Hazard perception is specific to a particular type of vehicle and a change in vehicle can be used to identify driving needs,” said Professor Crundall, who added, “Even experienced drivers can benefit from hazard perception training. Hazard perception training can improve road safety.”

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