Fear of being out of mobile phone contact is a dangerous and widespread phobia that fleets need to take action on now

Let’s get one thing straight. I have no problem with nomophobia per se – some of my best friends are nomophobes – but I do take issue to them flaunting their affliction while driving. That’s when personal preference spills over to public danger.

According to a new survey by YouGov, 13 million UK citizens are afflicted by nomophobia – the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. The study compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on a par with “wedding day jitters” or a trip to the dentist. It might sound ridiculous but remember the last time you left your phone somewhere safe but unobtainable when you were expecting an important call and you might be able to gauge where you sit on the sliding scale toward insanity. Put that phobia in a car without a hands-free kit – itself not as good as turning the mobile off completely – and you have a recipe for disaster.

I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation to this scenario: You get a lift from someone you know quite well but not well enough to comment on their driving style or music selection – not in the first hour of the journey anyway – when all of a sudden their mobile goes off, which you know won’t be ignored or allowed to go straight to voicemail. You offer to take the call and a message, but most of the time that gets short shrift and you end up feeling awkward, shifting in your seat while they blabber on oblivious to your nervous state and their increasing detachment from the road.

The massive hike in phone-driving fines speaks volumes. The latest figures show a 30% rise from 2005 to 2006 when 164,900 fixed penalty notices were dished out. That equals more than 450 fines a day, which suggests the basic fines aren’t high enough to be a deterrent (and nor, it seems, the fact that phone-driving can now be classed as ‘dangerous driving’ and potentially receive a prison sentence).

For once this isn’t a Government problem. Fleet managers can make a difference in changing perceptions. Enshrining in company car policy hands-free or switching off as the only two options must be backed up with top-down company action let alone the full force of the wider law.

The latter choice will no doubt freak out the nomophobes even more but hopefully it’s nothing a bit of counselling or self-help can’t sort. See www.nomophobia.com.