Tag Archives: mobile phone

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.

 

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.

Offline

On 31st October Tomasz Kroker was sentenced to 10yrs in prison. Whilst driving along the A34 at 50mph in a truck he collided with stationary traffic. Nothing new there. Collisions happen every day right? Well this one was different in that as consequence a woman and three children tragically lost their lives. So what was the cause? How could this have happened? Kroker was scrolling through music tracks on his phone to choose his next track. With eyes off the road and mind off the road he left a trail of destruction and devastation that nobody wants to see on our roads.

On 6th September Christopher Gard was sentenced to 9yrs in prison. With 8 previous convictions for using his phone whilst driving, Gard chose to send a text message to a friend about a dog walk. Whilst doing so he lost control of his vehicle and collided with cyclist Lee Martin and killed him outright.

Just think about that for a moment. 5 lives taken over the choice of the next music track or something so important as a dog walk

Smartphones and the multitudinous apps that they can run have brought about an always on 24hr society. We can’t stand to be parted from our phones and eagerly await the next alert or notification. Somebody just replied to your Facebook post. Your tweet just got retweeted but by who.. a celebrity maybe? A new Snap from a friend, your Ebay item just got a new bid, a Whatsapp message inviting you to a party. This list goes on. Our desire to be informed, up to date and fully connected is important to us. We thrive on the pace and instancy of our online lives and take it with us wherever we go. The FOMO (fear of missing out) factor plays hard ball with us and when that notification sounds we can’t help but look. We have to know.

Whilst this is great and a product of our desire for information and connectivity this behaviour is spreading to somewhere it shouldn’t. Our cars. It’s a well established fact that driving and using a phone is illegal. In fact, in the UK it’s considered so serious the government are on the verge of increasing the penalty to £200 and 6 points yet the problem persists. If anything it may well be increasing.

People are dying on our roads every day and the involvement of a phone or mobile device is becoming more prevalent. So what can we do about it? Simple. Don’t phone and drive. Don’t text and drive. #DontStreamAndDrive. In fact, if you’re driving, don’t do anything with your phone at all. Even a hands free call is a distraction and can significantly impair your driving performance to the extent it’s equivalent to drinking and driving.

Make a promise to yourself today. Commit to never use your phone behind the wheel of a car. Keep yourself and every other road user safe from injury or death.

We live in an always on, 24hr society and we love it. Make sure you don’t love it so much it overtakes common sense and you switch from always on to permanently offline.

Golf and #DontStreamAndDrive

When we do something that’s really important to us we focus on it completely and don’t allow ourselves to be distracted. 
I play golf. Badly mostly but I play. When I stand over the ball I zone in on trying to make it the right shot. I have a routine I go through. Stance, grip, visualise the shot, think about cadence, relax, eye on the ball, steady head… swing. Sometimes it works. Other times not.
Many times a golfer will be told or admit to themselves they lifted their head too early. They took their eyes off the ball. What’s the worst that can happen? Well you fluff the shot for starters. You could hit someone, smash a window or damage the club captains car! Extreme examples of course for in most cases you pull your trolley forward 10 paces and try again or wander off toward the rough to search for your ball.
So here’s a thing. We focus on these tasks. Those around us fall silent as we prepare. There is an accepted courtesy that you must not be distracted. Yet the consequences if we are distracted are minor.
Now transfer this to driving a car. We allow ourselves to be distracted in cars without a second thought all the time. Friends as passengers getting excited, bouncing around, singing, laughing. Having fun. You join in. Or, as is the growing trend, using mobile phones in cars. Making calls, sending texts, checking social media or the new danger on our roads… livestreaming. 
The risks of livestreaming and driving are fairly obvious. You’re driving a lethal weapon at speed. Anything can happen and often does. The risks are massively high yet drivers are consistently taking their eyes off the road. Why is it that drivers will livestream and take risks in a highly dangerous environment? Risks that could lead to death or serious injury. Yet when it comes to something as simple as a golf shot they are totally focussed on the matter in hand?

Seem a bit back to front? It does to me.

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted whilst driving. The difference between being an additional shot over par or dead are incomparable.
If something is important. Focus on it completely. If it could lead to your death if you don’t then focus on it as if your life depended upon it…. because it does!
#DontStreamAndDrive