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Talking on your phone hands-free in the car is like driving drunk. Very drunk.

Just checking a message….

Imagine if in the past few years, someone had invented a thingy that allowed you to attach a book, newspaper or magazine to your dashboard so you could read while you drove. Imagine if it had gained popularity so that now most of the people on the road drove and read at the same time. You wouldn’t use it, right? Too dangerous! But what about reading texts? What about fumbling around in your handbag to answer a call? What about just quickly checking your Facebook page or texting your mate to wish him happy birthday? Done any of those things while in control of heavy machinery ie: driving? How did all of this become so commonplace? So acceptable?

And you don’t even have to take your eyes off the road to put yourself, your passengers and other people in danger.

It’s official: talking on the phone while driving, even on a hands-free set, is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 per cent. The legal limit for driving is 0.05.

That’s why transport ministers from around Australia are seriously considering banning hands free kits in cars. It’s not quite the same as having somebody in the car with you (though undoubtedly having a wayward foot strike you mid gear-change is distracting) because the concentration required of the human brain to interpret a disembodied voice while focussing on the road and other distractions is phenomenal. That study showed it was more dangerous to talk and drive then it was to drink and drive. And the penalty for that is losing your license and even jail time for repeat offenders.

Australia is one of the heaviest per capita users of mobile phones in the world, with more than 21 million phones in use. Yes, that’s more than one phone for every person in this country. Even kids. Even babies.

It seems like a lot, so clearly some people have more than one. Hopefully they don’t use them both while driving. Then they would have to steer with their knees although I’m sure some already do.

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For every person who is supportive of this ban, there’s another (maybe two) who opposes it.

One of those people is writer, Mamamia contributor and soon-to-be author Kerri Sackville. She’s pissed at the very idea of a mobile ban.

Kerri writes:

Look. Hands-free.

“It was announced this month that transport ministers around the country are considering a blanket ban on mobile phones in cars, even when used hands-free or on Bluetooth. And I’m cranky as hell.

Yes, talking whilst driving is distracting. When I first got my license about 150 years ago, I couldn’t talk to anyone whilst at the wheel, so intently did I need to concentrate on this new and scary  activity (and even in silence I regularly backed into people’s cars). These days I still turn off the radio and tell the kids to be quiet when I am attempting a tricky reverse park.

But in regular circumstances, I am perfectly able to drive my car whilst conducting a conversation. I usually have three children in the car with me, so it would be pretty bloody awkward if I wasn’t. Not only do I have to talk to my kids whilst driving, I have to moderate disputes, pass out food, ensure seatbelts remain securely fastened, and provide regular updates on our Estimated Time of Arrival.

Believe me, if I can do all this, I can conduct a hands-free telephone conversation. After all, at least I can be certain the person on the other end of the line isn’t going to reach out and pull my hair when I refuse to pull over for an ice-cream.

The whole idea of banning conversations – any conversations – seems to me to be nonsensical. Think about it. Under the proposed laws, I would be permitted to engage in a heated debate with my husband whilst driving, provided that he is sitting in the seat next to me. I would not, however, be allowed to have a brief conversation with him via Bluetooth about what to eat for dinner.

I would be allowed to do my makeup whilst driving. I would be allowed to smoke a cigarette whilst driving (except that I’d become dizzy and run my car off the road, but I’m talking theoretically here). I would be allowed to take my hands off the wheel and adjust my undies. I would be allowed, if I was deaf, to have an animated discussion in sign language whilst driving (and, having been a passenger in a car driven by a very chatty deaf driver, I can assure you this is a very perilous activity). And yet I would not be allowed to have a hands-free conversation.

So why is this a problem? Why can’t I just give up my phone privileges whilst I’m in my car? Well, I live in Sydney, and the traffic is an absolute killer. I spend upwards of two hours in my car every single day just driving the kids to and from school, a mere four suburbs from my house. It kills me to have to waste so much precious time out of my short, short working day; for gods sake at least let me get some of my calls out of the way whilst sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic in suburban streets.

Besides, legislating against mobile phone use isn’t going to solve every driving issue. Nor is legislating against make-up application whilst driving, or eating whilst driving, or arguing whilst driving, or singing along to the radio whilst driving, or looking around frantically for a bathroom stop whilst driving. Ultimately, good driving comes down to common sense and good judgement, and
unfortunately no government can legislate that.

So in the meantime, let me make my calls in traffic. And who knows? If I’m distracted from the agonising frustration of 150 cars stretched out in front of me, perhaps you might even prevent a road rage incident or two.”

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Here’s my take: at first, I shuddered at the thought of not being able to use my phone in the car. But now, I say bring it on. I’m in favour of a total ban for drivers. I’m accutely aware of the example (shocking) I’m sending to my kids when I speak on the phone or text or check twitter while I’m driving – you know, at traffic lights. They’re picking up my behaviour about what’s acceptable by osmosis. And yet I find it very hard to self-regulate my use. I KNOW I’m distracted when my phone rings or when I’m talking, let alone texting or reading something.

And with all this talk about civil liberties and our right to do what we want in the car? Well, the same was once said about alcohol. When laws against drink driving were introduced, there was outrage that someone’s right to have a few drinks and then drive home was being legislated against. But the thing is that what we do behind the wheel of the car is not just about us. It’s also about our passengers, our children and every other driver and pedestrian on the road. So on this one, Kerri and I will have to agree to disagree.

Be honest – how much do you use your phone in the car and what for? Do you think there should be law governing mobile phone use and driving in the same way there are laws governing alcohol and cars?

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