BLOG: Government crackdown can’t suppress addiction

ALAN FELDBERG: So it’s emerged that the government is planning to ramp up the sentencing for drivers involved in fatal accidents who were driving carelessly or dangerously at the time.

This would include driving under the influence of drugs or drink, using a mobile behind the wheel or speeding. Ministers want the sanctions for such offences to fall in line with manslaughter – which would raise the maximum time behind bars for convicted drivers from 14 years to life. This is all fine and well, and in principle I totally agree, but I don’t believe it will have much impact.

My own view is that of the above list the use of mobile phones behind the wheel is easily the biggest danger. I believe estimates of the number of motorists who do it fall well short of reality, and I don’t believe stricter penalties will stop them.

There are two very human reasons why.

The first is the ‘it-won’t happen-to-me’ mindset. I was at an IAM RoadSmart lunch recently when the level of confidence among drivers was revealed to far exceed the level of competence. Essentially, most of us think we’re better drivers than we are so believe we can avoid accidents. It’s also true that the likelihood of getting caught using a mobile in remote – you only have to compare the number of drivers you see with heads bowed to the number of traffic police on our roads. So, the thinking is simple: I won’t have a crash because I’m a good driver, and I won’t get caught because there are no police.

Probably even more pervasive though, is that mobile phones are this generation’s addiction – and addictions are hard to control. Is addiction too strong a word? I don’t think so. How many times a day do you check your phone? How do you feel if you leave home without it? True, many of us now worry about the time we spend staring at that small screen, but few of us can stop ourselves. It might be eroding real relationships, it might be affecting our sleep patterns, it might be exposing us to continuous and extreme levels of abuse, but still that little device is the first thing we reach for in the morning and the last thing we put down at night.

I simply can’t see a concern for something that, statistically, is highly unlikely to happen overriding that craving….

I hope I’m wrong, but I fear there will be many more tragedies until cars drive themselves and we can all sit back and scroll away until our heart’s content.