We all know that using a mobile phone whilst driving is bad, don’t we? It’s an indisputable fact, backed up by peer-reviewed academic research, that using a mobile phone behind the wheel (whether hand-held or hands-free) is distracting and leads to driving behaviour that is less safe and more likely to lead to accidents. Relatively speaking though hands-free is lower risk than hand-held and crucially, from a behaviour management point of view, still legal*
Why is it then that I seem to see so many people using hand-held phones behind the wheel? To a certain extent I can understand if the car being driven is old or a model that might be lower specification, but it’s not unusual to see it happen in late-model premium brand cars too. The one that sparked this entry was the lady I encountered this morning, chatting away in her 15-registration Volvo V50. I find it difficult to believe that Bluetooth isn’t a standard feature in a car like that, and I’ve seen the same thing with drivers of BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, Aston Martins, Porsches and many more.
It appears to me that these drivers fall into one of two broad categories:
1. They don’t know HOW to pair their phone with the car, or
2. They can’t be bothered to pair their phone with the car.
From a fleet risk management the first issue is pretty easy to deal with. Make phone-pairing a standard part of the new vehicle handover process; have your fleet supplier/phone supplier send somebody to spend a day at your office or at your conference offering a pairing service; monitor the results of your licence-checking and just ask your drivers how come they have a CU80 (mobile phone endorsement) on their record.
Of course all this is based on the premise that hands-free mobile phone use is actually allowed in the fleet policy, and Bluetooth connectivity is specified as a standard fitment when choosing fleet cars. On the other hand, if the use of phones whilst driving has been completely banned in the fleet, then the intention is to be applauded. Bear in mind though that human beings are not known for their adherence to instruction, and that taking away hands-free capability may actually result in drivers taking increased risks.
The “can’t be bothered” group are far more difficult to deal with unfortunately. This is an issue of pure behaviour and as such drivers will consciously or unconsciously throw up barriers when we try to investigate its origins and will be hugely resistant to any measures taken to change it.
Drivers will give a multitude reason as to why they don’t use the technology but the most common theme will be that they don’t have the time. What they are actually saying however is that they don’t regard it as a priority and that they have more important things to do (and by extension they themselves are too important to do it). The example springs to mind of a CEO I encountered last year. His E-Class Mercedes was practically autonomous, yet he persisted in holding his phone to his ear as he cruised into the company car park. After six months of postponements, cancellations and simply not turning up, his fleet manager gave up trying to carry out the pairing for him. From my (albeit brief) interaction with the gentleman in question it’s obvious to me that there was much more than a time issue getting in the way. I feel that as a powerful and self-driven person he was feeling that his ability and judgement was being questioned and as such was pushing back against an attempt to control him.
Engagement with drivers like this is always challenging, but it’s essential as they tend to be senior opinion-leaders within their organisation. It generally needs to be done on a one-to-one basis as considerable digging is often required to find the right buttons to press to generate the required response. Sometimes that will be to engage with their sense of leadership, or to point out that they need to be protected as an asset. Pressing the safety, legal or moral aspects however is recognised as being a matchless method of terminating a meeting early. And not in a good way.
Having said all that, and recognising the fact that we’ll never be able to get drivers to do everything perfectly all the time, the more we can do to wean them off their phones the better. Driving will be safer. Drivers will be more relaxed. The world will be a nicer place. It won’t happen overnight though, so in the meantime let’s just do what we can to make things a little bit better.
*Hands-free phone use is not specifically prohibited by law, but bear in mind that in the event of an accident it has become very common for the drivers’ phones to be seized and call logs/activity checked. If it’s determined that the call/interaction contributed to the collision then the driver is likely to be charged with Driving Without Due Care and Attention.