The Association of British Drivers (ABD) today criticised the government's proposals to ban Bluetooth headsets in cars, claiming its blanket approach to mobile phones could see as many as six million drivers fined for using the wrong type of hands-free kit.
The government is still considering responses to its consultation, which ended back in November, about outlawing mobile phone use in cars. It is going to face a difficult challenge in creating a law which suits everyone — the hard nosed safety advisers want a ban on all phone use while the AA wants a clearly defined law banning the use of handsets.
Under the current proposals, only hardwired hands-free kits will be legal, ruling out Bluetooth headsets.
"Banning the best and most effective hands-free technology is ridiculous," said Nigel Humpreys, spokesman at the ABD. "Convenience is the key to increasing hands-free usage and Bluetooth scores heavily with no wires to plug in and easy transfer between cars."
The AA understands why the proposals are so complex, but acknowledges there is a problem with such blanket rules. It wants a simple rule, which states 'using a mobile handset whilst driving is an offence'.
"Stopping drivers talking while stationary [or] saying one headset is preferable to another, is too complicated. It will cause confusion and encourage drivers to break the rules," said Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA. "If the law is clear and just stops at handsets then its easy to enforce and simple to understand."
But the ABD thinks existing dangerous driving laws are already sufficient and that the government should be focusing its energies elsewhere.
"Drivers can already be convicted of driving without due care and attention if they are using their mobile phone [and not concentrating on the road]," said Humphreys.
"It is ludicrous for the government to single out one symptom of bad driving rather than the deed itself. Accidents are more likely to be down to a lack of care and attention, which could be caused through chatting to a passenger or eating a sandwich. The government should be spending money putting more police on the road to enforce existing laws," he added.
The AA's Howard disagrees. "There is no fixed penalty system under current laws, a policeman could waste a whole day in court trying to prove a case of dangerous driving."
Research from mobile communications group Jabra shows that around 43 percent of UK drivers admit to using their phone while driving, over half (51 percent) of them use some form of hands-free kit.
Public opinion is varied. A massive 67 percent of PC Advisor readers believe all mobile phone use should be banned, while government research puts 81 percent of the population in favour of allowing hands-free systems.
The problem for the government is how to enforce such a law.
"With limited resources to enforce a ban, surely it makes sense to concentrate on handheld use, " said George Tennet, vice president of sales and marketing at Jabra. "Those drivers trying to negotiate a roundabout with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a phone represent a much bigger risk than motorists who ensure they can keep both hands on the wheel by using a headset."
The government's proposals are expected at the end of the summer.