Last updated: April 11, 2014
In Ireland, whatever doubt there was about the illegality of text messaging while driving was eradicated when Transport Minister Leo Varadkar issued a regulation banning the practice. It already was illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving, so Varadkar’s move addresses any technicalities. “Removes legal grey area on SMS,” he Tweeted on April 11. The law goes into effect May 1.
In the United Kingdom, more than half of drivers surveyed said they’d missed turns because they were driving distracted. Even worse, about 1 in 10 drivers reported they often are unable to recall details of their entire vehicle journey — putting them on a sort of auto-pilot. Younger drivers (35 percent) and Londoners (22 percent) appear more likely to forget parts of their journeys. “It’s all too easy to get behind the wheel and zone out completely,” said Simon Best, head of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. “Being distracted enough that you miss a turning is a sign that driving is a task that has fallen too low in your brain’s priorities.” IAM sponsored the poll of about 1,500 drivers, whose results were posted in late February 2014.
In Sweden, the government has placed restrictions on drivers’ use of cell phones — although it appears unclear exactly what they are. The country, one of the few in Europe that allow use of mobiles without hands-free devices, says motorists can be cited for use of the devices if the result is “detrimental” to their driving. “What that means is up to the police,” a Swedish Transit Authority official told SVT. The rule went into effect Dec. 1, 2013.
Almost all EU nations prohibit use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Sweden, Albania, Serbia, Moldova and Malta are among the few European nations without bans on handheld cell phone use by drivers.
Ireland is scrambling to bring its distracted driving law up to date. The country will specifically ban text messaging while driving, closing a loophole in its handheld device law that allows texting while a cell phone is cradled, the transportation minister said in October 2013. Texting will be prohibited regardless of whether the device is being held, but voice-activated texting will be OK. The fine will be the same as for handheld cell phone use: 60 euros and three penalty points. The new law is expected to take effect in 2014, according to the Irish Independent.
A British bus driver has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for killing a married couple when his vehicle toppled over, apparently while he was reading a text message. The wreck, near Huddersfield in July 2012, was blamed on the distracted driving of Ethen Roberts, a veteran bus driver. “If ever a case demonstrates the obvious dangers of (texting while driving), this is it,” the judge said during sentencing in late August 2013. The couple were on their way to Cuba for an anniversary trip, the Yorkshire Post reported.
In Ireland, almost eight in 10 parents fear their children will be involved in a distracted driving wreck, a survey suggests. More than two-thirds of parents told pollsters that other passengers would be the biggest distraction to their teenage driver, while 63 percent cited cell phones and 47 percent named loud music. The survey was released in August 2013 by the UK’s Aviva Insurance.
British drivers who use handheld cell phones soon will face a £90 fine. The Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said the number of points against a driver’s license would not double, as had been proposed. Current fines are £60 plus 3 points. More than a million motorists have been convicted of using a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel since the law went into effect in 2003, the Daily Mail reported. “We want to send a clear message to dangerous drivers: If you continue to show complete disregard for the safety of other road users, we will catch you, and we will punish you,” McLoughlin said at a press conference May 8. The fines also apply to other forms of careless driving. McLoughlin admitted to using his cell phone while driving in the past, but found it “unbelievable” that motorists would text message while behind the wheel.
London police wrote more than 1,150 tickets for use of handheld cell phones in the first 11 months of 2012. A two-day distracted driving crackdown in late November yielded 45 cell phone citations.
In Sweden, the National Road and Transport Institute told the government that there was no reason to regulate drivers’ use of handheld communications devices such as smartphones. The board said in April 2012 that drivers likely would ignore any ban and that distracted driving laws don’t lower crash rates.
Almost half of German drivers say they use cell phones while driving. That compares with 6 percent of U.K. drivers, according to a European motor safety poll. Ford Motor Company commissioned the survey 4,300 drivers from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Britain. In Italy, 14 percent of the respondents admitted they had text messaged while driving.
“This survey clearly demonstrates the urgent need for us all to improve our concentration levels behind the wheel,” said Stuart Southgate of Ford Europe’s Automotive Safety Office. Six in 10 motorists told the researchers that they weren’t sure they would pass their driver’s license test if taken again.
In Austria, bicyclists are now prohibited from using handheld communications devices. The fine for violations in this eastern European country is 50 Euros. Hands-free operation is OK. The Ministry of Transport’s new bicycling rules went into effect in late March 2013.
In Denmark, the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) is seeking seeks a total ban on cell phone use while driving. “We see that drivers sit with their new smartphones while driving and use them like a laptop computer and thus look away from the traffic,” AIB chairman Sven Krarup Nielsen said July 19, 2011. Danish law currently prohibits the use of handheld cell phones while driving, but permits use of mobiles with hands-free listening devices. The vehicle safety board is lobbying Parliament for the change.
In Finland, drivers who can’t stop talking on their cell phones now face suspensions of their licenses. The new Act on Driving Licenses, which took effect June 1, 2011, gives local police the authority to suspend a driver’s license if the cell phone violation is committed three times in a single year or four times over a period of two years. Suspensions range from one to six months under the new Finnish distracted driving penalties.
(View the International distracted driving news page.)
In Ireland, 8,500 drivers were prosecuted for electronic distracted driving violations in the year’s first quarter, a 10 percent hike over the same period in 2010. Almost 100,000 Irish drivers have received penalty points for texting or using handheld cell phones since 2006, and a additional 20,000 were just cited and fined. Dublin had the most scofflaws, Ireland’s national police reported.
Brits brush off cell phone law: British drivers are pretty much ignoring the 7-year-old law against handheld cell phone use while behind the wheel, a survey found. As many as 81 percent of drivers use cell phones without the required hands-free kit, according to Good Mobile Phones’ survey of 1,859 motorists aged 17 and over. 44 percent admitted to texting while driving, while 24 percent said they accessed social networking sites such as Facebook.
A British teenager has been sentenced to incarceration for 2 1/2 yearrs for killing a grandmother while reading a text message. She faced as much as 14 years in prison for “causing death by dangerous driving.” Keisha Wall killed 63-year-old Christine Lyon in early 2010, a Reading jury found. Police said she received a text message seconds before the crash. Wall denied the charges and the victim’s family said she never apologized. Read the full story about the texting U.K. teen sentenced to prison.
Total cell phone ban?: The European Transport Safety Council has proposed that all cell phone use be banned for EU drivers. The safety alliance urged “clear and strict” laws banning mobile phone use while on the road.
All EU nations except Sweden have banned handheld cell phone use while driving but allow hands-free operation. Ten of the 27 EU member states specifically prohibit texting while driving.
The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) also recommended in a December 2010 report — Minimising In-Vehicle Distractions — that employers ban all cell phone use by their employees.
The ETSC is a Brussels-based umbrella group of 43 organizations dedicated to the reduction of the number and severity of transport crashes in Europe.
Scotland is cracking down on drivers who use smart phones. Roadway law enforcement Chief Superintendent Charlie Common said in November: “The use of any distraction device, including smart phones, is illegal and carries the same penalties associated with making a call whilst driving. … We are committed to stopping those motorists who continue to ignore the safety warnings and risk their life and the lives of others.”
In Sweden, nearly 10,000 people lost their licenses for distracted driving in 2010, an increase of 12 percent. Most of those penalized were distracted by cell phones and GPS systems.
Looks like Sweden has nabbed its first text-messaging driver. A Falkenberg man crashed into a pole and ran over a ditch before coming to rest on the sidewalk. The cops closed, being in the area on an unrelated case. He apparently will be the first person in Sweden to be charged as a result of texting while driving. (Sweden is one of the few areas in Europe where cell phone use is allowed while operating a motor vehicle.)
English road safety group Brake is pushing for an expansion of the country’s ban on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones, with hands-free mobiles outlawed as well. “It’s time that our politicians took note and put an end to the ridiculous situation where using a hand-held mobile is banned, but using hands-free isn’t,” said Ellen Booth, campaigns officer.
The U.K. Home Office reports that in 2009, about 116,000 tickets were handed out for mobile phone use while driving. The number is off 30% from two years ago, the Telegraph reported May 5, 2010. Meanwhile, cell phone use by motorists was up 27%. A spokesman for Brake, the road safety group, said: “This is clearly a law which is being flouted and isn’t being enforced to a degree that actually makes people think that they are going to get caught.”
In 2009 there were 454 deaths and serious injuries linked to distracted driving in the United Kingdom, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. About 2,500 less-important accidents occurred as a result of distracted behaviors as well.
Police in Scotland wrote 180 tickets for driving and using wireless devices on Feb. 25, 2010, as a one-day national crackdown on distracted driving. Among those ticketed: A bus driver reading text messages while crossing through a city center.
Great Britain’s Labour party deputy leader was fined £350 after pleading guilty to backing her car into a parked vehicle while talking on a handheld cell phone. She also had 3 points charged against her license with the Jan. 9, 2010, sentence. The Crown Prosecution Service said Harriet Harman initially was charged with driving without “due care and attention” and using a handheld mobile telephone. The cell phone charge was dropped, which drew criticism from the road safety group Brake. She faced fines of over 5,000 pounds and nine points on her license for the South London crash.
Serbia: The Law on Safety in Traffic went into effect Dec. 10, 2009. The Serbian ban on cell phone use while driving brings fines of €60. Punishments of up to €250 and some jail time (five to 10 days) may be imposed if an accident is in the equation, according to the web site Balkan Insight. As many as 20 percent of accidents in the country involve cell phone use, police say.