Transport ministers around Australia want to ban mobile phones in cars, even when used hands-free or on Bluetooth.
And I am not impressed.
Okay, so talking whilst driving is distracting. This is true. And when I first got my license about 150 years ago, I couldn’t talk to anyone whilst at the wheel, so scared was I that it would disturb my concentration. (Sadly, even in complete silence I kept backing into other people's cars.) These days I still turn off the radio and tell the kids to be quiet when attempting a tricky reverse park.
But in regular circumstances, I am perfectly able to drive my car whilst conducting a conversation, which is convenient, as I usually have three children in the car with me. In fact, 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 completely 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, safe 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.