Category Archives: In the Media

The Highest Standards

Whenever a police officer gets themselves into a bit of a mess we often hear or read this comment;

Police officers are public servants from whom we expect the highest standards..

This of course is correct and rightly so. We are public servants, we uphold the law and take an oath to act with impartiality and are bound by a code of ethics that demands integrity and honesty. Our behaviour, if we are to be trusted and have the confidence of the public, has to be exemplary.

This week is #RoadSafetyWeek and as you would expect I have been pushing out messages to support this campaign along with #DontStreamAndDrive, #Fatal4 and others. Whenever I engage in a determined effort to tackle the use of phones by drivers I am pretty much always challenged about the use of radios by police officers.

“Why can police use their radios?”

“Surely police using their radios is just as dangerous”

“One rule for us and another for the cops”

“If I was doing that I’d get a ticket”

This is only a sample of the comments that I get back and in some ways you have to agree with them. Yes we are trained to a higher standard but the risks and dangers are still there and to be honest the ‘because we are better trained drivers’ just doesn’t wash with many people at all. The police aren’t the only drivers on the road trained to a high standard. Over the years the IAM have trained countless people on how to be better and safer drivers.

So what makes us so special? In reality nothing. We are not special at all so why do you get a ticket for using a phone but we use our radios without an issue? First of all there is a difference between a phone and a radio. It is covered in the mobile phone legislation where it makes a distinction between a mobile phone and a two-way radio. The legislation then creates exemptions for certain frequencies. I understand this was to ensure that government and private organisaions that routinely use two way radio e.g. police, ambulance and taxi drivers, could still do so. This was fairly simple for the police when the personal radios we used operated on the UHF frequencies. They were a radio. Nothing more and nothing less. Then we had the introduction of the TETRA system and things got a little more complicated because these devices are primarily a two-way radio but can also be used like a phone. They also looked much more like a phone. Many arguments arose about this but the frequencies used still fell into a band that is legal. Even before TETRA the police were starting to build hands free functionality into their patrol vehicles, especially so for traffic vehicles that often had a VHF set fitted within them. This practice has continued and most vehicles now have this capability.

So the bare bones of this are that using a hand held mobile phone whilst driving is illegal. Using a two radio (frequency exemptions permitting) is not. However, there is no overridding exemption and when the police use their radios their driving standard has to be maintained. If it falls below the required standards then prosecution may follow. Here lies the rub though. If we forget frequencies and function and simply look at both devices there are many similarities. They are a communication device that can be hand held and can create a distraction for the driver. They are both capable of being operated handsfree but the majority of the time a police officer uses PTT (push to talk). This requires the officer to be hands on. That said the radio is generally affixed to the officers body armour and can be let go of in an instant should both hands be needed on the wheel. It also doesn’t fall to the floor as a mobile phone would. Whilst the radio has a screen it is not integral to the operation and nor does it need to be viewed. A phone on the other hand could be dropped but creates that secondary distraction. Where is it? Is it in your lap or the footwell. Has the screen smashed? In this footage from the USA the driver is using a mobile phone and despite the situation she gets herself into she does not let go of the phone at all.

The two-way radio clearly needs less input than a phone and operates differently but in light of smart handsfree technology it could also be argued that a totally voice controlled phone is safer.

I blogged recently about the mobile phone legislation and how, by allowing handsfree operation, it appeared to have focussed entirely on the importance of having the drivers hands on the wheel.* If that is correct and was seen as the danger that drove the legislation then the same can be said for any other device that operates in a similar way regardless of frequency. I can imagine this was a tough decision though as a blanket ban was going to cause huge issues for countless  999 organisations and others. The net effect would have taken every taxi driver and courier off the road overnight. It would seem therefore that practical, financial and employment issues stepped in over outright road safety. There was a trade off.

*What this did was ignore the fact that eyes on the road and mind on the road are also essential.

Police and road safety organisations all encourage no distractions in the driving environment at all. We encourage people to turn their phone off or pull over at the side of the road and park safely before using their phone. Whilst they do that the police officer or taxi driver passes by using a radio without an issue and this creates a disparity that angers many. There is of course the issue of urgency. The phone call from the dentist or from your boss is generally not life or death. The messages a police officer gets passed often are.  I’m sure you’d agree that it would be a farcical situation for an officer to ignore being shouted on the radio. Instead they pull over in a safe place, park, stop and then speak to the control room to be given an emergency that they could already be half way to if they hadn’t stopped.

So what makes a taxi drivers call urgent? Can it be viewed in the same light? Many taxi’s now operate on different systems altogether and in the case of Uber is entirely mobile phone based. The latter is another argument and blog entirely.

However, we are also in a place of increasing technology and information within our vehicles. On a recent TV program a medical technician driving an ambulance was seen to be looking down and reading img_1575out loud the detail of their next job on a screen fitted to the vehicle. We also know from the program that he was not on his own. So why is the screen fitted to the ambulance in a way that the driver can see it and read it whilst in motion? Are we putting temptation and distraction in the drivers way? Setting them up to fail and increasing the risk of road collisions? Many police officers in the UK now carry tablets. Some may hook up to cars. The ones issued in my force don’t but if we look to the US many of their patrol cars have a full size laptop fitted to the dash. If we then add all the ANPR screens and information in police cars there are additional distractions that can pull the drivers attention from the road. Even more so if single crewed.

To add further fuel to the debate there have been a number of occasions where police officers have been caught using mobile phones whilst driving. In this situation the officer was on police land as detailed in the report. Here an officer in Nottingham is reported to have been using a phone whilst driving.

It’s not surprising really that many drivers cry foul when caught using their phone. There is a double standard engendered here either by poor behaviour or legislation. This creates a ‘Don’t do as I do.  Do as I say’ scenario.

The scales are set with ultimate road safety on one side and practicality/financial issues on the other. Every death or serious injury on the roads is something to avoid and if we can enact legislation that reduces them we should. However, it does have to be tempered with common sense. There are practical solutions. If all police officers were double crewed then the passenger could handle all the radio traffic and information in the car. That said the current staffing levels mean this would create a huge issue for policing and communities. Yet as we can tell from the ambulance situation above, even with two people in the vehicle the distraction is still there and the driver can be drawn to it like a moth to flame.

As technology becomes increasingly mobile it is adding burdens to the driver in the car. The police and many other organisations both public and private are adding technology and screens that could potentially distract the driver. Mobile phones have rapidly evolved and provide countless ways for all drivers to be distracted other than by the traditional calls and texts.

The bottom line is that any distraction whatsoever is dangerous and could lead to death or serious injury. Whilst police officers can use a radio legally they are still entirely responsible for the standard of their driving. We also know that should that standard slip then they can expect the full weight of the law crushing down on them because of the position they hold and will be held to the highest standards.

It is concerning though that police drivers who will be held to the highest standards, rigourously investigated by the IPCC and expected to adhere to the code of ethics are having potential distractions put in their way by the organisations that employ them.

 

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Smartphone – Stupid Driver

On the 10th of August 2016 Tomasz Kroker crashed his HGV into stationary traffic on the A34 in Berkshire. Immediately prior to the impact he was scrolling through music on his phone. He killed a woman and three children. He was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On 12th August 2015 Christopher Gard sent a text message to his friend about going for a walk with his friend’s dog. He was driving at the time and whilst his eyes were off the road he crashed into and killed a cyclist. He was sent to prison for 9 years.

Both cases outline the catastrophic consequences that can so easily occur when drivers use their phone behind the wheel. People who use their mobile phone whilst driving are a very real danger to themselves and every other road user.

In a recent survey by the RAC it was found that attitudes are changing but not in the right direction. _81248922_driver_paDrivers who felt taking a quick call was acceptable increased from 7% to 14%. Those who felt safe checking social media whilst driving increased from 14% to 20%. To compound these issues further the number of prosecutions over the last 5 years has almost halved from 178k in 2011/12 to only 95k in 2015. The net result is an increasing likelihood of offending whilst the chances of actually being caught and prosecuted is reducing.

Over the years the penalty for a car driver using a phone has gradually increased and is currently set to double to a £200 fine and 6 penalty points. What hasn’t changed is the actual offence itself. This still revolves around a phone being ‘hand held’. As such handsfree operation is, as far as this offence is concerned, completely legal.
When the legislation was first introduced phones were very simple devices capable of making calls and sending text messages. The offence very simplistically focused on ensuring the drivers hands were where they should be (on the steering wheel) and not on the level of distraction a call can engender. Any reasonable person will agree that a quick 15 second handsfree call to say you are on your way home is vastly different to a 20 minute business call or an argument with your partner. This wider distraction is not something the legislation ever covered.

If this danger wasn’t enough, phones have now evolved into powerful pocket sized computers capable of a vast array of functions. In addition to calls and texts they have a multitude of apps that vie iphone6vsnokia3310for our attention with notifications and alerts presented on large high definition screens. As the devices have changed our reliance upon them has increased too. Our desire to be informed and up to date has reached such a state that we have developed an ‘always on’ culture. Our devices have become an extension of ourselves and we have been led to a place where many suffer with FOMO (fear of missing out). We cannot leave our devices alone and when an alert sounds we are inextricably drawn to read it, sometimes regardless of the very obvious dangers.

We are now entering an era where cars have functionality built into them that allows phone applications to appear on the media screen within the vehicle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are two examples carplaythat deliver mobile phone functionality into the driving arena. We are easily seduced by new technology but we would be wise to sit back for a moment and seriously think about what functionality we actually need whilst driving a car. At present these devices are limited to SatNav, calls, texts and music. CarPlay also allows access to Spotify. This can easily be seen as combining, in one place, all the functions we may enjoy from different devices already in our cars.

Simplistically this would appear to be logical progression but how long before other applications become available including social media and livestreaming applications? Without exception these products are marketed on the basis they make driving safer whilst giving the driver access to more information and all those things that are important to them. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Driving is a complex blend of hand, eye and foot coordination and demands our full attention. Advances in mobile phone and in-car technology have always focused on keeping the hands on the wheel and voice activation/control has been a big driver in enabling this situation. This has engendered a belief that keeping our hands on the wheel will therefore deliver a safer drive. Whilst in singularity this cannot be denied there are other factors at play that are close to being abandoned by the driver distracted by a phone.

In 2002 TRL conducted research into the use of phones by drivers both hand held and hands free. This was benchmarked against drink driving (a known dangerous driving practice). The results indicated that certain aspects of driving performance are impaired more by using a phone than having a blood /alcohol level above the current drink drive limit. The study reinforced all the concerns about mobile phone use by drivers. TRL concluded that;

“Drivers need to be strongly discouraged from engaging in any phone use while behind the wheel”

The evidence points to what has been known for a long time. Having our hands on the wheel alone does not engender safe driving. Our eyes and our mind need to be on the road too. Devices and technology in cars are increasingly providing ‘eye candy’ and feeding our desire to be connected all the time. They are creating an easy distraction that takes the drivers attention away from where it should be and consequently the risk of fatal and serious injury road traffic accidents increases as a result.

Some news outlets reacted to the RAC report by describing the use of phones by drivers as a pandemic. When coupled with the significant reduction in prosecutions it was argued it was a pandemic running unchecked.

Nothwithstanding the pending increases, some quarters are calling for stiffer penalties for those caught. Others are calling for technology advances that prevent drivers using a phone whilst the car is in motion. Both are riddled with complications. A car that isolates the driver’s phone may also isolate any the passengers may have. A driver could of course simply have two phones and bypass the safety features. It has been evidenced that using a phone whilst driving can be equivalent to drink driving and yet the penalty for drink driving is significantly harsher. Would an increase to bring mobile phone use in line with drink driving help reduce its prevalence? In some regards yes. However, we know that education, penalty and enforcement are all essential factors in changing behaviour. This final factor requires the fear of being caught . It would seem from the numbers admitting to using phones coupled with reduced prosecutions that the fear of being caught is quite low.

The government have gradually increased the penalties for drivers caught using a phone whilst driving. The evidence to show it is as dangerous as drink driving has been available since 2002 yet 14 years later the penalty is some distance from the two matters reaching equal footing. Education by many road safety organisations such as Brake and national media/social media coverage continue to highlight the dangers. Regular enforcement action by the police helps to tackle the issue but the reduced numbers of traffic officers across the country is likely to be contributory factor in the dwindling number of prosecutions being brought. In a time of austerity it would take a considerable amount of investment from the government to allow Chief Constables the flexibility to dedicate resources to tackle this issue more aggressively.

Technology will continue to evolve and in years to come a realistic prospect on how to manage phone use in cars will no doubt become a reality. However, in the interim people are dying on our roads every day. The solution is simple in theory but complex in application in that it needs multiple stakeholders buy in to move forward. Changing the mindset of today’s drivers is hard because behavior engendered by ‘handsfree is legal therefore ok’, is embedded deeply. It is not impossible but, as we know from 50 years of drink drive campaigning, it takes many years for the impact to be seen. Regular innovative campaigns, sensitive highlighting of tragedies stemming from phone use and encouraging people to take pledges such as the Brake Pledge all help. Manufacturers should be encouraged, maybe even required, to wind back on the ever increasing use of unnecessary technology in cars that seems to prioritise profit and novelty over safety. A recent survey by Brake has shown overwhelmingly that distracted drivers are considered by many to be the biggest danger on our roads. Drivers need to understand the degree of impairment using a phone engenders and that driving safely is far more than just being handsfree. Passengers need to comprehend the dangers and feel empowered to challenge drivers using their phone.

Only if everyone works together will we see positive change in the use of phones by drivers. The government, police, manufacturers, road safety organisations and the public must all combine their efforts to effect change. The original mobile phone offence making handsfree use legal was misinformed and set us down the wrong road. A road we have been travelling since 2003 and it’s going to take some considerable back peddling to get us back on track. However, it’s a journey we have to make because peoples lives depend upon it.

In The Hood

A suspect arrest a short while back
has caused the police to get some flack.
The suspect chose to struggle and fight
the officers using all their might
could not contain this fight, this war
they had to take him to the floor.

The struggle went on
and on and on.

An arm swung up, “look out a fist!”
A cuff placed swiftly on a wrist.
Cuffed, restrained nowhere to go
but with a crowd he made a show.

Immobilised legs, arms no use
with nothing else he hurled abuse.
The crowd recorded with their phones
every cry, wail and groan.
Live video and vines on a loop
on YouTube this will be a scoop.

This will be an Internet hit.
The cops had used all their kit.

With arms and legs out of play
and nothing more he could say
he played his final gambit
spit spit spit

He missed but ohh this was not good.
But wait the cops had a spit hood.
This man was a total stranger
infection was a real danger.
Swiftly placed upon the head
his ill intentions were put to bed.
Bystanders and what they saw
caused outrage, shock and uproar.

Foul behaviour cut off mid flow.
The cops knew they had to go.
On his feet they took their man
and lodged him securely in a van.

The suspect may not ever tell
of what he thought whilst in that cell.
Yet despite how spit hoods might appear
causing shock, anger or fear.
The cops who engaged in that fight
went home to loved ones safe that night.

Civilised society to you and me
is often not what we cops see.
The nasty underbelly of life
can cause gentler folk some strife.
This is just what we cops do.
Fight for our safety, me and you.

PokémonGO or PokémonNO?

The new game sweeping the USA and coming here soon. PokemonGO
A rehash of the old game but now the gamer has to navigate around the game in the real world by GPS location and augmented reality. 
Gamers need to be aware of their own surroundings when out in public with a phone in their hand. It will no doubt be great fun but less so if they cross a road or injure themselves because they are not looking where they are going.
Players can lay a lure to attract Pokemon. What if the lure is laid by those intent on subjecting gamers to crime? 
Those playing the game should have fun but must be situationally aware to reduce their chances of becoming victims of crime. 
Sadly, video footage already exists of gamers hunting down Pokemon whilst driving. This is no different to the issues around the #DontStreamAndDrive campaign. Distracted driving kills. In the case of the latter it can only be #PokemonNO

#ProudToProtect

Unlike many of my colleagues around the country, I didn’t grow up always wanting to be a police officer. Policing was just a career option that crossed my radar and looked appealing. Good pay and conditions, promotion opportunities and a huge range of specialisms to diversify into all under one roof. I explored the options and submitted my application form.

On a Monday morning just over 25yrs ago I pulled my car into the Sedgley Park training school at Manchester to begin a job that has been brilliant and bloody awful.

It’s a job where I have cried laughing and a job where I have lost friends and just cried. A job that has occasionally made me hard and insensitive, yet, at other times, filled me with compassion and empathy and pushed me to go that extra mile.

I’ve seen the best that society has to offer and the worst we humans can do to one another.

There really is no job anything like it. It’s been a roller coaster of exhilaration, excitement and fun tempered by frustration, hurt, mundanity and outright “scared to death” fear. Much like every other persons job, there are good days and bad days. There are days when I love the job and other times when I’d gladly walk out of the door and never come back.

So why am I still here? Service? Duty? A calling? The pay, pension and job security? If I’m truly honest it’s a combination of all these factors and many more. Ironically, those of us working in the police service call it ‘the job’. Yet policing is so much more than just a job. It’s a vocation. I don’t really know where it came from but the seeds of my early career grew into patience, wisdom (I hope) and a sense of duty. An honestly held belief that in between the tears, pain, blood, sweat and tears I was making a positive life difference to the person that needed it most at that time. Protecting and offering shelter and support to those people who need it most. Sometimes this has meant stepping well out of our area of responsibility to do something not because we should but because we care. There is no greater feeling of job satisfaction I know. Winning a contract or hitting a sales target just doesn’t come close.

Over the years I’ve worked with some people who have let the side down and made my job all the more difficult. I’ve also worked with people with whom I have put my life in their hands and they in mine. There is an amazing strength in a family and the police service is just that. There is also my own family. A wife and children who support and love me. Without them the whole thing would simply crumble.
I’m proud of myself, I’m proud of my family, I’m proud of my colleagues and for 25yrs I have been #ProudToProtect