Car Culture: Drop that Phone!

Your weekly look at how the car dominates our lives, plus some good bits


Have you got into the habit yet of pulling over to the kerb to use your iPhone? Not yet installed a hands free unit, such as a Parrot, or a phone incorporated in a radio? I see tradesmen using theirs while on the move. Private car owners tend to use theirs while waiting at the lights, head down to hide what they’re doing, not noticing the lights have changed to green. 

Well, new sanctions are on the way. Legislation on using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is to be tightened up to close a loophole that has allowed people to take photos and videos behind the wheel. I didn’t know of this escape clause.

The current legislation prevents drivers from using a hand-held mobile phone to call or text, but the law is set to be updated in spring 2020 to reflect advances in smartphone technology. The revised laws will include using hand-held phones to browse the internet, film, take photos, or scroll through playlists. Photographing your girlfriend draped over the bonnet in a bathing costume while on the move appears exempt.

The one exemption is 999 calls. You can make 999 calls on a hand-held device while driving if it’s not safe to stop, or in my case, telling the police of an aggressive driver  (maybe drunk) veering about on the motorway.

The fixed penalty for driving while using a hand-held mobile phone is £200 and six penalty points. Courts can also fine car drivers up to £1,000, and HGV and bus drivers up to £2,500 in addition to issuing a driving disqualification. That is set to double. The Department for Transport (DVLA) said the review will be carried out “urgently” with further proposals “expected to be in place by next spring”.

As we know from catching that glare from the driver parked next to you, using a hand-held mobile phone or sat-nav while driving is illegal. Tell the police officer you were lost and was checking a route map, or trying to phone your wife in hospital to see if the baby is born, is no excuse. Want to use your sat-nav? – fix it to your dash or windscreen, preferably not right in front of your nose.

You’re able to use your phone if you’re safely parked, but this doesn’t apply to being stopped in traffic or queuing at lights – using your phone in these cases is illegal. If you’re stopped by the police because you’ve tried to beat the system – you’re busted. However, those of us who use hand-free phones can still be stopped by the police if we seem distracted, not in charge of the steering wheel! 

The original law around driving with mobile phones was enacted 16 years ago, before smartphones were widely used. Only texting or phoning on a mobile phone were punishable offences, and a number of cases have seen drivers get off on this technicality. For example, in July a man was convicted for filming a crash, but the case was overturned because he argued he wasn’t using the phone to communicate.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – a politician with an iffy reputation – said: “We recognise that staying in touch with the world while travelling is an essential part of modern day life but we are also committed to making our roads safe.” Some busybody road safety groups – the kind that thinks hanging and flogging not enough of a deterrent – are campaigning to have hands-free phones banned altogether Fine, I use a flip phone!

The action comes following a report by the House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee urging Westminster to introduce tighter restrictions on stupid drivers.


The daily rip-off

Private parking firms – the emphasis is on private – are on course to stick around nine million fines on motorists this year – an increase of more than a quarter. Official figures show that in the first half of 2019-20, management companies sought 4.32 million sets of vehicle keeper records from the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency at £2.50 a pop, a nice wee earner readers probably didn’t know existed run by our always affable profiteering public service. The DVLA rules enable private parking firms to issue ‘penalty’ tickets of up to £100 to drivers and pursue them for alleged infringements on private car land. Some firms are unscrupulous in hounding drivers for payment. The data suggests tickets are now being dished out at the rate of at least one every four seconds helping to line the bank account of the DVLA. With the agency charging £2.50 to issue private parking firms with a driver’s details, it stands to make £21.6 million from selling on information over the 12 month period. The DVLA says it is allowed to disclose details of a vehicle’s keeper under data protection laws. Aye, right.

In the wrong order

This week a Canadian man died during the famous London to Brighton vintage car rally when, mistaking a turning, he drove down a slip road onto a motorway, and carried on in the wrong direction against oncoming traffic before being hit by a truck. His wife is in hospital with serious head injuries. He is not the first to die in that annual run where vehicles rarely get faster than 30 mph, and not the first to take a motorway slip road the wrong way. His 1903 Knox Runabout, a tiny, open-cabin vehicle with a single-cylinder engine and max speed of 35 mph, was destroyed.

A near accident

Two days ago my old car broke down, clutch failure. A low loader arrived. As the winch reached its biggest load, the car at 25 degrees, the cable snapped, letting out a sound like rifle fire under the chassis. It ran backwards down the ramp and gathering momentum, rolled down the slope. The driver-operator was so stunned he didn’t move. I ran like hell and managed to grab the front, dug my heels into soggy leaves on the tarmac, and after a few more hair-raising feet stopped it. Ah, the benefit of owning small, light vehicles. On inspection I could see the cable was down to two steel strands where it met the hook, the owner damn slow in checking his equipment. One hour later a new low-loader arrived, by which time I’d made the acquaintance of the house owner nearby who came out to help, and told me he had the world’s biggest collection of old Bentley’s. Drama follows me everywhere.

Happy motoring! 



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