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Years after tragedy made the headlines, drivers are still letting themselves be distracted

In her latest blog, Alison talks about distraction driving and making our roads safer.

Years after tragedy made the headlines, drivers are still letting themselves be distracted

On Wednesday last week officers in Devon and Cornwall Police caught a man watching TV shows at the wheel of his car. This telly-loving driver was so engrossed that he didn’t notice officers approaching. This incident, in Torquay, might be funny if distraction driving wasn’t so deadly. The driver, now facing a charge of driving without due care and attention, certainly isn’t laughing.

The risks associated with distraction driving were not always as well known as they are now, but in 2019 there is no excuse for concentrating on something other than the task in hand while in charge of a vehicle.

It was three years ago that the punishment for those caught driving while on the phone was doubled to six penalty points and a £200 fine. That was also the year that lorry driver Tomasz Kroker was jailed for 10 years for killing a woman and three children while scrolling through music on his mobile. The horrific footage from his dashcam as his heavy goods vehicle shunted into queueing traffic was broadcast nationally. The accidents killed Tracey Houghton, her sons Ethan Houghton and Josh Haughton and her stepdaughter Aimee Goldsmith.

Lives were shattered because Kroker was not paying attention. Aimee’s mother made emotional appeals to motorists not to use their mobile phones while driving – yet despite this well publicised tragedy and the doubling of penalties, more fatal collisions have followed.

I speak to roads policing officers in our own force regularly. These dedicated officers live with the knowledge that they are likely to be called from one serious incident to another. In the course of a few months all are likely to have attended the scene of a fatal collision, all will have met grieving relatives.

Department for Transport figures tell us that 59 people lost their lives on the roads in our force area. That’s more than a person a week who is no longer with us because of what are mostly avoidable incidents. The 794 seriously injured in the same period may face decades of pain, disability and trauma. They might not be able to work again or provide for their loved ones.

We have to make it our mission to reduce these figures dramatically and in short order, and tackling distraction driving will help. Part of the solution is getting tough on those who flout the law. The new No Excuse roads policing team who collared TV driver are doing an excellent job of enforcement. 

But we also need to tighten up the legislation itself. Nationally I campaign on this matter and others related to road safety in my capacity as road safety lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. I am pleased that the Government announced it would amend the law around distraction driving after a loophole was discovered that made it difficult for police to prosecute people who were using their mobiles for things like taking pictures.

My office is also working with partners across the South West to ensure that they are working together to be part of the solution. Our Driving for Better Business programme – a partnership with Highways England - engages organisations around the South West in ensuring that they consider their employees’ welfare, and that of other people, when managing their fleets. Distraction driving can certainly be a risk when it comes to travelling for work, particularly in our force area where large distances of rural roads are a consideration.

Crucially I know that I have the support of our communities when I campaign on this issue. Last year’s summer survey on road safety showed that it was people’s number one concern. Clearly we’re all seeing a lot of drivers who think it’s OK to use a mobile phone or another device while at the wheel.

So in a week where the National Police Chiefs’ Council is campaigning against distraction driving I’m going to ask readers to make a pledge. Please place your phone on silent and shut it in the glovebox or out of reach while you are driving. That way you are part of the solution in creating a safer place for all.

Alison Hernandez