| 10.2°C Dublin

Could you be addicted to using your mobile at the wheel?

Should we have penalties that match those for drink-driving?

Close

Driving while on phone

Driving while on phone

Driving while on phone

Here's a question that's likely to pop up in family quizzes: 'What is nomophobia?' Answer: It's a fear of being out of mobile contact.

It was first coined in a 2010 study by the UK Post Office into the anxieties of mobile phone users. The authors abbreviated "no-mobile-phone phobia" to nomophobia. The study found more than half the UK population suffers from it. In the US, about two in three, sleep with, or next to, their smartphones.

According to a recent RED C poll, three out of five Irish people are nomophobic.

But what's nomophobia got to do with road safety? Well, it clouds every driver's better judgment once inside their car. Otherwise responsible drivers, who would never drink and drive, feel they can justify their compulsion to use their mobile while driving. They are risking their lives and others in the process.

Outside of the car, mobiles can be lifesavers. They are a source of entertainment. The downside is just how dependent we've all become on them. If you think you're any different, ask yourself when you last switched off your mobile? How did you feel when you misplaced or lost yours? You might even argue it is an addiction.

We know it's dangerous in a car, but it's become so normalised we've come to view spending time in the vehicle as "dead time" that a mobile device can justifiably be put to more productive use.

A red traffic light or a traffic jam is an ideal opportunity to text or check social media updates and we can't resist continuing once the car has started to move again. Why? Because one of the biggest symptoms of addiction is that we lose track of time and space when we're on devices, which affect the brain the way drugs do.

We're so busy catching up and not missing out, we've forgotten how complex a task it is to drive a car safely. Driving feels familiar and, therefore, safe. How comfortable would we feel if we knew a pilot was texting his friends on take-off or landing?

We excuse ourselves that we're more experienced drivers or better multi-taskers than others. We think that hands-free kits are the answer, when there is no evidence to say that they're any safer.

It seems we are using devices in the car a lot more than drivers in the UK. Four times as many, in fact. Just under 2pc of UK drivers are observed using the mobile while driving compared to 8pc in Ireland. It's a serious problem here.

Using a mobile while driving is as dangerous as drink-driving. It doesn't happen by accident - it happens by choice.

I wonder, too, if we have reached a point where the penalties that apply for drink driving should also apply to using a mobile phone behind the wheel?

Indo Motoring