Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Texting while driving makes you up to 23 times more likely to crash.

BY MICHAEL PATTWELL

IN THE lead-in to Christmas, I came to the conclusion that curmudgeonly comments about the topics of the day would not be appreciated and decided instead to submit a couple of short stories for the entertainment of the regular and loyal readers of the Evening Echo, as well as casual readers who might pick it up in the hairdressers, the taxi depot or some other waiting area, with a view that, perhaps, a ‘new’ reader would be attracted to the column and the newspaper.
I don’t know if it worked to that extent but the reaction I got from a number of readers made the project very satisfactory from my own point of view. Thank you to those who contacted me with appreciative comments. Sometimes we might pretend to be tough old nuts but an admiring word from a reader can be very heart-warming.
Now that we are into the New Year it is, however, back to business.
For the last couple of years I have been privileged to be on a judging panel for the Road Safety Authority’s (RSA) ‘Leading Lights” competition. An individual, school, business or organisation that campaigns, educates and is committed to improving road safety in his, her or their community can be nominated. The 2016 awards completed the ninth year of the competition.
Earlier in the month of December, I sat in a Dublin hotel room with my fellow judges to examine and debate the many excellent entries that had made the shortlist, and in the week before Christmas we all met again in Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park when the awards were presented.
It was a great occasion and was made so by the excited appreciation each recipient displayed when the award was presented by Ms. Liz O’Donnell, Chairman of the RSA.
The entries are broken down into various categories, including:
(1) Road Safety Ambassador of the Year for an individual who has raised awareness of road safety in his/her community and who acts as an ambassador for others on how to be road safety aware.
(2) Road Safety Officer of the Year, given to a Road Safety Officer, working on behalf of a local authority, who has actively contributed to making the roads safer within the community.
(3) Education Category. This has a number of sub-categories under the headings of the various levels of education. Awards are given for the design and originality of educational initiatives that have made a significant impact on the teaching or practice of road safety within an educational environment, from early childhood to third level and community.
(4) Public Sector. Given to a public sector organisation, including the Fire Services, Gardaí, Paramedics and Local Authorities, that have committed to promoting road safety in their organisation.
(5) Emergency Services — given to individuals or groups within the Emergency Services (i.e. Garda, Ambulance, Fire personnel) who have made an outstanding contribution to road safety in their community.
(6) Local Media Award, confined to individuals or groups who have made an outstanding contribution to road safety through the local media. These are always very interesting and strongly feature local radio stations.
(7) The National Media Award often produces a very strong candidate for the Supreme Award, including the overall winner in 2015 awarded to Irish Times journalist Peter Murtagh’s forensic reconstruction of the events leading up to a crash, and its aftermath, in Mayo.
(8) The Business Category award is presented to a business or organisation that has shown commitment to road safety by encouraging safe driving practices to all its staff or safer vehicle operations within its organisation.
(9) A Special Judges Award for Technology and Innovation in Road Safety, presented at the discretion of the judging panel, for a project that achieved extra special admiration but that may not have quite made it to the Supreme Award.
In addition to the various categories we were also allowed to make a “Special Recognition Award” to those who we, the judging panel, felt had demonstrated a commitment to Road Safety in their communities, which is worthy of recognition at the awards.
A Supreme Award is then chosen from among the winners of all the categories and is presented to an individual or group for the most innovative and outstanding road safety initiative, or for leadership and exemplary dedication to the area of road safety.
The 2016 entries were of a very high standard. They showed great imagination and, even more importantly, huge dedication by a large and varied group of people and organisations. These included quite young people at various levels of education, teachers, Gardaí, Fire-brigade personnel, journalists from the whole range of the communications media, business people and many others.
The 2016 awards marked the initiation of the Special Judges Award mentioned at number 9 above. This was awarded to a young man, a Secondary School student, from Westport, Co. Mayo, Andrew Irwin, for an app he created called “DriveSafe”. Andrew, from a young age, had developed coding experience and expertise that he put to excellent use in developing the app.
Andrew explained that following a conversation with his mother over the Christmas break in 2014, when she suggested that an app that reduced the number of people using their phones while driving would be very beneficial to road safety, he created a road safety app that would detect when the user is driving and automatically set his/her phone to ‘drive mode’ as well as issue an auto response to those trying to contact the driver. This young man did most of the work himself but with some help from a graphic designer.
Put simply, the app, when it is switched on, automatically and without any other interaction from the user, detects when the owner of the phone is driving and puts the phone on silent. It works for incoming calls as well as texts. An incoming call will be logged but the app sends a text message or a voicemail message to the caller to say that the phone owner is driving and will return the call or text in due course.
We all know that even with the best will in the world there is an overwhelming temptation, when the phone rings for a call or text, to check who is calling. With Andrew’s app, however, the driver is not aware of the incoming call and therefore the temptation is removed.
The DriveSafe app was released to the Google Play Store in October 2015, and has since been downloaded nearly 50,000 times by 8,000 people in 123 countries around the world. It is currently available in Android devices but the brilliant young man has been working on an iOS version for Apple and hopefully it may become available for iPhone in the not too distant future.
The issue of using a mobile phone whilst driving got a lot of attention this year in a number of categories. When one considers that the biggest distraction for drivers is the mobile phone that so many of us have become attached to, that is hardly surprising. Despite the fact that using them when driving is killing people on Irish roads, rational, intelligent people continue to text, make phone calls, take selfies or update their social pages while driving. Making a call will make you four times more likely to crash. Texting: a staggering twenty-three times more likely.
In the Primary Schools subcategory it came up again and won the award for Duleek Girls’ National School. In early summer, 2016 the fourth and fifth classes in that school began to discuss the number of drivers they saw, including parents dropping their children to school, using mobile phones whilst driving. They decided to start with their own parents and with the help of their teacher, Ms. Ní Chuinn, they sought advice from a local Garda and the Meath County Council Road Safety Officer.
The children composed a poem and printed it on a little plastic pocket, which they distributed with the intention that when a driver got behind the wheel he/she would put the phone into the pocket and place it beyond reach. Well over 5,000 pockets have been distributed and the Gardaí in the area have reported a huge reduction in incidents of mobile phone use whilst driving.
The same topic featured in an entry from South East Radio, based in County Wexford. The radio station commenced a month-long campaign in April, 2016 entitled “Give Your Phone the Boot”. Simply put, the campaign encouraged people to place their phones in the boot of the car before getting behind the wheel. This was achieved with the help and support of local schools, local sports teams and businesses. This campaign won the Local Media Category award.
There were many more excellent ideas put forward and I may return to this subject again and describe more of them.
This year has been a particularly bad one in terms of road fatalities and injuries. Please, please, please pay heed to the warnings, listen to the advice that is available from the RSA, The AA, the Gardaí and the County Road Safety Officers and make 2017 a much safer one for all of us who use the roads of Ireland.
A Happy New Year to all my readers.
Contact Michael at [email protected]

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