The age of the mobile phone has brought all sorts of positive advancements to our lives. Unfortunately, it’s brought nearly as many difficulties as well. Texting while driving, for example, sits alongside intoxicated driving as one of the common causes behind road accidents in Ireland. Use of handheld devices while behind the wheel has become such a problem that interested groups, including the RSA, have been running anti-distracted driving campaigns since before 2015.
And yet, the practice continues. Why? Many drivers don’t think that using their phones while driving impacts their ability to focus on the road. It only takes a few seconds to text or call someone after all – what harm can it do?
As mentioned, distracted driving is the cause of even 30% of accidents in Ireland. There are more risks to the practice, though, than that. As you prepare for holiday driving with kids and pets, you’re going to want to be as safe as possible on the road. With that in mind, let’s dive into the legal consequences of distracted driving so you can better understand how Ireland is trying to deter the practice.
Ireland’s distracted driving laws
In Ireland, you’re only legally allowed to use your smartphone while behind the wheel of a car if you’re getting in touch with emergency services. This means calling 999 or 112.
Under all other circumstances, it is illegal to hold your phone in your hand or otherwise support it with your body while behind the wheel of a car. That means no resting it on your thigh, no holding it between your cheek and shoulder, and so on. This practice has been illegal since 2014, as has the practice of reading or sending text messages while you’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
You can, however, use a separate GPS tool or hands-free device while behind the wheel of a car. If your phone hooks up to your vehicle’s Bluetooth system, for example, you can readily answer calls and texts – so long as you’re not bodily supporting your phone as you do so.
Why are all of these limitations in place? Because distracted driving has the same impact on a driver’s reaction time as drink driving does. When it comes to road safety, you want to be able to respond to obstacles around you ASAP – and you can’t do that if you’re not paying attention to the road.
The legal consequences of handheld device use
If you’re caught supporting your phone with your body while driving, you’ll face legal consequences. These consequences can include fines between €60 and €2,000, depending on whether you pay to the Gardaí at once or you get convicted in court.
If you’re initially pulled over, you’ll be charged with a mobile and driving offence, which will, in turn, net you a fine of € 60. If you pay this fine – otherwise known as a fixed charge – then you’ll only receive 3 penalty points on your licence.
If you do not pay this fixed charge, you’ll be taken to court for your behaviour while behind the wheel. If you’re convicted of distracted driving, you’ll receive 5 penalty points on your licence and may be fined up to € 2,000.
Once you hit 12 points on your licence, you risk having it revoked. Do note, though, that the 12 point threshold only applies to drivers who’ve had their licences for more than two years. Novice drivers, professional drivers, and teenagers may all have their licences suspended or revoked if they have more than 7 penalty points on record.
Tips and tricks for focused driving
Even knowing the consequences of using a handheld device behind the wheel, you may still be tempted to text and drive. If you are, consider the different ways you can remove that temptation listed below:
Hand off your phone to a friend or another passenger – not only will your companions be able to play navigator, but they’ll be able to read off any texts you may receive while driving.
Put your phone on silent – if you can’t hear your phone go off, you may be less tempted to try and answer any texts or calls that come in while you’re on the road.
Keep your phone out of reach – if you can’t readily reach your phone while you’re behind the wheel, you won’t be able to use it while you’re driving or while you’re stopped at an intersection.
Invest in a separate GPS – if you frequently use your phone to help you get from Point A to Point B, you may not be able to imagine driving without it. If this is the case, consider investing in a separate GPS device. That way, if you’re driving alone, you’ll be able to rely on your secondary device and lessen the temptation to text.
It’s tempting, in the age of the smartphone, to multitask while behind the wheel of a car. Unfortunately, the human brain can’t actually multitask. Your desire to get more done while on the road will most likely result in distraction and potential injury.
The good news is that there are several ways you can keep yourself safe on the road. Do yourself a favour and set your phone aside. At the end of the day, your text messages will still be there. Driving safely means that you’ll still be there to answer them.