University of Sussex study prompts calls for hands-free phone ban for drivers

Research by the University of Sussex has prompted calls to ban drivers in the UK from using mobile phones – even hands-free. 

Using devices like a phone or sat nav impairs a person’s ability to drive safely and increases the likelihood of road traffic collisions, according to a Transport Select Committee report published today (Tuesday, 13). 

As a result, some MPs are calling on the Government to overhaul current laws. 

The report reads:

‘It is a tragedy—and one which is entirely avoidable—that 43 people were killed and a further 135 were seriously injured in 2017 in road traffic collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor in the crash.’

Dr Graham Hole, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex was one of those to provide evidence to the committee.

A study by the university in 2016 found that drivers having a conversation via hands-free could miss missing road hazards which they might otherwise have spotted.

Dr Hole said:

A popular misconception is that using a mobile phone while driving is safe as long as the driver uses a hands-free phone. Our research shows this is not the case. Hands-free can be equally distracting because conversations cause the driver to visually imagine what they’re talking about. This visual imagery competes for processing resources with what the driver sees in front of them on the road.

“Our findings have implications for real-life mobile phone conversations. The person at the other end of the phone might ask “where did you leave the blue file?”, causing the driver to mentally search a remembered room.  The driver may also simply imagine the facial expression of the person they’re talking to.”

He added:

“The use of hand-held phones was made illegal primarily because they interfere with vehicle control; but our study adds to a mounting body of research showing that both hand-held and hands-free phones are dangerously distracting for drivers. The only ‘safe’ phone in a car is one that’s switched off.”

The Sussex psychologists ran two experiments in which participants performed a video-based hazard-detection task. In both, distracted participants were slower to respond to hazards.