THERE’S been a bit of controversy over suggestions that using hands-free mobile phones while driving should be criminalised.

According to the Commons Transport Select Committee, using a hands-free device is every bit as dangerous as using a common-or-garden mobile while behind the wheel.

Are you a politician or in a related profession? Are you considering throwing your weight behind any future moves to criminalise using a hands-free device while driving, and punishing offenders with heavy fines?

If you are, you might want to ensure certain things are in order.

For starters, ensure you have strong evidence that using hands-free phones has directly caused horrible accidents.

Plenty of tragedies have been caused by self-centred slackwits using conventional mobile phones behind the wheel; for proof we need look no further than countless heart-rending news stories. That is why the criminalisation of mobile phone use while driving back in 2003 had mass support, and why nobody objects when punishments for the offence are beefed up.

Incidentally, self-centred slackwits using ordinary mobile phones on a speaker setting does not count as hands-free.

Why? Because the self-centred slackwits in question must still fiddle with screens and buttons, be distracted by the display and worry about whether the phone is, for example, going to slide from a seat to the floor should they brake heavily.

Something else you should be wary of is highlighting accidents during which drivers happened to be using hands-free mobiles. That is not the same as hands-free mobiles causing accidents, any more than, say, happening to have been sucking a mint humbug before a crash would place traditional confectionery under a cloud of suspicion.

You may be tempted to point to research alleging that using a hands-free system is every bit as distracting as using an ordinary mobile phone.

If so, make sure the experiments used by researchers involve actual hands-free use, perhaps on a closed test track furnished with suitable obstacles mimicking typical driving conditions.

If your research consists, as did one piece of research cited in recent news reports, of having volunteers sit on a car seat and respond to video footage of hazards while the voice of a stranger blurts random messages from a loudspeaker a yard away, do not be surprised if vast swathes of the public take it with a pinch of salt.

You might as well attempt to ban chalk because cheese is difficult to write with, or cheese because chalk isn’t very nice on toast, not even with Branston Pickle.

Prepare yourself for tricky questions when the issue is discussed.

For example, if using hands-free communication devices is so dangerous, should members of the emergency services be obliged to pull over safely before responding to a call?

If not, why not?

If conversation in vehicles is distracting, should all such conversation be outlawed? What of babies crying? Children squabbling? Dogs barking? will you police this?

One of the few indisputable truths to emerge regarding this subject is that fewer people are using ordinary phones while driving.

This indicates that the message is getting through - and has led to a dramatic decrease in revenue generated from fines.

Unless you can come up with some similarly cast iron truths about the dangers of using hands-free phones, you run the risk of people dismissing the whole thing as nothing more than a brazen exercise in chiselling cash from our pockets, and doing so on the flimsy basis of protecting us from a danger which doesn’t exist.