Tougher action needed on mobile phones

The video of the lorry driver who killed a mother and three children while distracted by his phone has been shown on television and circulated widely on social media.

It’s sickening — but the odds are you will see someone driving and using their mobile phone today.

When trucker Tomasz Kroker smashed into stationary traffic, Judge Maura McGowan said his attention had been so poor he “might as well have had his eyes closed” and research shows that the judge’s comment is about right.

We commented on this a couple of years ago, saying that drunk-driving had been replaced by text-driving as the leading cause of teen death in the US:  more than 3,000 teens die each year because of sending messages while driving.

The US has the unwanted lead in this — 69% of drivers aged 18-64 in the US admit using cell phones while driving, compared to a European low of 29% here in the UK.

The campaign Think! released its 2016 survey in June and found that people thought using a phone was as dangerous as taking class A drugs or being drunk: 86% thought driving after taking class A drugs was dangerous, but 85% thought drink-driving and texting were dangerous while using a mobile phone without hands free was rated as dangerous by 82% of people (Using a mobile phone with hands free was rated as dangerous by 30%).

The figures were reflected in questions on unacceptable driving behaviour: 93% thought drink-driving was unacceptable and 92% driving after taking class As, but 91% thought texting and driving and 87% using a mobile phone without hands free were unacceptable.

Using a phone with hands free was rated as unacceptable by 37% but that’s still one third. Elections are won with a lower majority.

Despite this disapproval, the proportion of people using their mobile hands-free when driving increased to one in three, with women and older drivers seeing the biggest rises. The proportion who knew someone who used a mobile without hands-free was also one in three.

To prove the danger as fact, consumer magazine Which carried out tests, where simulators gauged people’s driving ability and reaction times in various states of distraction. They drove while sober, and while at the legal alcohol limit and (on a separate day) while using a phone to chat and text.

The average time taken to react to hazards when sober and not distracted was just over a second.

After drinking, reaction time rose to 1.2 seconds, fractionally higher when speaking sober on a handsfree kit or handheld mobile phone.

When attempting to write a text message, the average reaction time jumped to two seconds; Which concluded that texting behind the wheel was “highly dangerous” and worse than drink driving. Texting diminished drivers’ abilities more than drinking, or any other type of phone use tested. One of the subjects “crashed” while attempting to send a text message.

Safety body ROSPA says that using a hands-free phone while driving does not significantly reduce the risks, because the problems are caused mainly by the mental distraction.

The question is how to tackle the problem.

Technology might help in the future, with cars that prevent phones from working while the engine is running, but in the short term it’s clear that harsher legal penalties are needed — on a par with drink driving.

Under new rules expected next year, drivers will get six points on their licence and face a £200 fi ne if seen using a phone; newly-qualified drivers could be made to retake their test while second offenders face fines of up to £1,000 and a six-month driving ban. It is perhaps inevitable that even harsher penalties will follow.

Kate Goldsmith, whose daughter Aimee died in the crash caused by Kroker, rightly said he had turned his lorry into a lethal weapon by using his phone while driving.

If you’re tempted to use your phone while driving, think of Jake Goldsmith, who saw his sister Aimee die in the smash and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

His mother said: “Jake doesn’t talk much any more, he doesn’t have much to say. Our nights are plagued with nightmares and broken sleep.” One thing’s for sure: if a new breed of dog or drug had killed four people in one go, Parliament would make that breed illegal pretty much the next day.

It’s moving much more slowly on mobile phones.


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