New Penalties for Mobile Phone Usage When Driving or Riding.

The penalties for using a hand-held phone whilst driving or riding can be 6 penalty points and a £200 fine, a possible ban, a £1000 or £2500 (LGV/PCV) fine if taken to court, or a loss of licence if caught during 2 years after passing the driving Test. Will this significantly reduce the number of perpetrators?

The phenomenon of mobile devices, in particular, Smart phones, enables the user to participate in all kinds of communication and personal organisation. Connectivity with colleagues, friends and social media can send users into a frenzy of electronic activity of responding to emails, texts, missed calls and social media. A compulsive desire to know and engage in the activity even when there is a risk associated is a similar symptom to other types of dependencies exhibited by individuals with behavioural addictions.

Although the term Nomophobia is a relatively new term to describe the anxiety resulting from loss of access to a mobile device and the related disconnect, it can be the first indicator of an irrational dependency upon all that the device delivers. Especially when a user is unwilling to restrict usage by self-detachment when the circumstances dictate.

Biochemical addictions to alcohol, nicotine and opiates such as heroin and morphine, activate the reward and pleasure system within the brain by increasing the dopamine neurotransmitter that is used to regulate motor control, awareness, motivation and pain. This accumulative effect restricts pain, produces calmness, slows the breathing process down and represses feelings associated with depression resulting in a euphoric experience. The brain is wired in a way that will remember the process that leads to this reward and pleasure experience. This can result in cravings, the desire to repeat the activity and where there is a lack of self-discipline and self-control can result in a continual cycle that leads to addiction and dependence. Behavioural addictions are known to increase the levels of the beta-endorphins neurotransmitter, a pain, stress and anxiety reducer and although the human body will not allow an overdose the effects can still lead to dependency.

Mobile phone dependency is becoming increasingly common. Known consequences of over-dependence are the impact upon the motivation to learn and remember, knowing that the required information is at hand. This is a mental abdication of the normal memory retaining process and is dis-functional, causing anxiety when detachment to the device is experienced.

It has also been shown in research that when exposed to a mobile device usage at an early age it has an adverse effect on the development of self-control and self-discipline, leading to problems and issues with education, concentration, interaction, self-worth and self-esteem. When the dependency takes hold normal rational behaviour is compromised. The proclivity to engage in activities when common sense, rationality and risk dictates are inadvisable, but where the urge to participate is so strong, is a factor in the misuse of hand-held mobile devices, especially so when in control of a vehicle.

Considering neurotransmitters and mobile devices, research is continuing. Nomophobia, where vehicles are concerned, will be difficult to resolve just by additional penalties for drivers. The social consequences of the semi-unrestricted use and proliferation of smart mobile devices have yet to be fully realised. What then can businesses and organisations do to reduce the risk of being exposed to mobile phone misuse by their drivers?

The Highway Code section “Mobile Phones and In-Vehicle Technology” Rule 149, provides a clue. All learner drivers are exposed to this rule; “You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. You MUST NOT use a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device when driving….”. This rule is the first that a new driver is exposed to. But the education should be ongoing and intensified when it is identified that an employee is deliberately ignoring the rule and breaking the law.

Many employers have a policy in place when it comes to mobile device usage in company-provided vehicles. Pinewood Technologies, the providers of Licence Link the online licence checking service state as part of their policy; “The handling of a mobile phone while driving is illegal…. The Policy of the company is that mobile phones should not be used whilst driving…. Using mobile phones and hands-free whilst driving takes the driver’s concentration and attention away from the road…. Should you use a mobile phone whilst driving which then results in an accident, the police will use their power to prosecute for ‘driving without due care and attention’. Like the highway code, this policy will probably only be read once.

Knowing that penalties may be a limited deterrent to those who are addicted to their mobile devices and fear the disconnect, enforces the concept of constant and continuing monitoring of employees driving licences. Education must then be provided when risk is identified. A reinforcement of the rules, laws and consequences of failing to apply them. Education, similar to counselling can lead to a rewiring of the brain;  can lead to a self-imposed disconnect to the neurotransmitters that can lead to addiction.


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