Tag Archives: Death

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.

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#DontStreamAndDrive Day

Friends. I need your help.

Driving is a complex operation. A blending of eye, hand and foot coordination that can propel a vehicle down a road at incredible speed. A process that requires skill, judgement, responsibility and places upon you, as a driver, a duty of care to yourself and every other road user.

If done correctly, driving a car fully occupies your attention. Listen to my simple commentary here as I drive down country lanes. Now consider that in a city with pedestrians, cyclists, pedestrian crossings, more traffic, buses, more road signs, junctions and hazards. If you are fully focussed on your driving you have zero time to do anything else.

The use of mobile phones by drivers has been in existence since the devices were introduced. The specific offences were introduced to UK legislation in 2003.

As phones have become an essential part of day to day life the use of them by drivers has increased. Stand at any busy junction for 5 minutes and count how many drivers you see using a phone. You will be appalled. Studies have shown that driving ability is clearly impaired by using a mobile phone and that talking on a hand-held mobile phone impairs driving more than driving above the drink drive limit. Just think about that for a moment.

The Government in the UK recognise the implications of this behaviour and have, over the years, gradually increased the penalty for this offence. There is currently a consultation on bumping them up again. However, indications are that use by drivers is not reducing.

When questioned many people will agree that drinking and driving is unacceptable but will often happily get behind the wheel after 1 or 2 drinks. When asked, some people will agree that using a phone whilst driving is dangerous but will do it themselves. Why? Because they are a safe driver? There is regularly a disconnect between what people ‘think’ about certain behaviours and what they allow themselves to do.

In 2014, using a mobile phone whilst driving was a contributory factor in 21 fatal accidents. 21 families torn apart with grief. 21 lives needlessly taken because of unnecessary mobile phone use. Have you used a phone whilst driving? Did you think about the consequences and still use the phone anyway… or is this sort of tragedy, the kind of thing that happens to others? You’re a safe driver right? Wrong… if you use a phone whilst driving…. VERY wrong. It can, does and will happen to someone just like you.

But there is more to worry about. This isn’t making phone calls. This isn’t sending texts. This is the massively increasing trend of livestreaming on the internet. Livestreaming is fun and a great way to engage with friends and others online. You can show viewers what you are doing, what you are looking at and let them see who you are, your personality and your life. This is great when in a city and showing the sights, streaming an amazing sunset on Hawaii or the view from a hot air balloon drifting over the Serengeti. It’s amazing and really opens up other peoples worlds to us. There are many platforms to do this from such as Periscope, MeVee, Blab, Meerkat, Facebook and Snapchat. It stands to reason though that live streaming is going to come into the driving arena.

That last sentence is deliberately phrased to give the impression the problem is coming. The reality though is that livestreaming and driving is already here. I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at what people are doing and have been left utterly speechless. Drivers holding phones and broadcasting whilst they drive. Drivers flipping the camera whilst holding the phone whilst they drive. Drivers reading comments that viewers have put on the screen and engaging in conversations. Drivers showing themselves driving and the scary amount of time their eyes are looking at the phone and not on the road. Drivers admitting that what they are doing is probably illegal, reckless or dangerous.. but STILL DOING IT! Drivers who are almost giving a presentation… aiming for some sort of social media celebrity status  and desperately trying to impress viewers.

Yesterday I watched a young woman in the USA, streaming, driving, reading the comments, replying to the viewers and was adjusting her hair at the same time. She had no hands at all on the steering wheel.

The consequences of this new behaviour are very frightening. It will not be long before the first person livestreams their own death or that of another whilst driving.

I have called out a few people over the last few weeks who have streamed and drived. I have tried to point out the dangers and have used some videos to try and reinforce the point.

You can find them all here.

Livestreaming and driving is increasing every day. The people I have called out are roughly split into 3 groups. Those who don’t reply to me at all, those who are in denial (“I’m a safe driver” and “I never touched the phone”) and those who realise what they have done and commit to never do it again.

I’ll finish as I started. ‘I need your help’

On Friday 8th April 2016 I plan to run a #DontStreamAndDrive day.

Over the next few weeks I will be asking you to help support the day. To get the message out to as many people as possible that livestreaming and driving can be a fatal.

I will be asking you as a livestreamer to get online and post a short broadcast with the hashtag. In the broadcast you will give your commitment to never stream and drive, encourage others not to and that you will never watch a broadcast when the host is driving. Those on Twitter who do not livestream will be encouraged to post a picture holding a card with the hashtag or written on their hand in the classic palm forward ‘stop’ style. More detailed info will follow nearer the date.

I plan to speak to as many road safety agencies as I can to gain support. I will approach all my policing colleagues in the UK, North America and beyond to get them to help and share the message both in advance and then support the event on the day.

I know that every right thinking person would want to reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Ironically every streaming driver I have seen would probably say the same…. we need to bridge the gap between the mindset and the behaviour. We need to get the message out there now, nice and early, to current and future livestreamers that streaming and driving is massively dangerous and must not be done.

Thank you for reading. Thank you to those who have supported me so far. Thank you if I’ve touched a chord and you think you will be able to help me in advance of and on the April 8th itself.

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook then please consider signing up to the #DontStreamAndDrive Thunderclap

The message is really quite simple; #DontStreamAndDrive

I am delighted that #DontStreamAndDrive day has the support of the amazing organisations and police forces;

Supporters 160407

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Police Professional Magazine ; Fixers UK ; THINK! ; TISPOL ; Road Safety GB ; Brake Charity ; Safe Drive GM ; Road Safety Wales ; Birmingham Updates ; Wasted Lives ; National Crime Agency ; Bedfordshire Police ; Leicestershire Police ; Surrey Police ; North Yorkshire Police ; North Wales Police ; College of Policing ; Cumbria Crack ; Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service ; Wiltshire Police ; Sussex Police ; Avon and Somerset Police ; Police Federation of England and Wales ; Norfolk Police ; Suffolk Police ; RoSPA ; West Yorkshire Police ; West Midlands Fire Service ; Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service ; Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service ; East Anglia Air Ambulance ; North West Motorway Patrol Group ;

*Featured image courtesy of Mike Petrucci on Flickr (satnav screen image changed and text added)