My daughter is seventeen. She's learning to drive. She's doing OK and I'm pleased, relieved, that she takes the process seriously. Sitting at the side of her, fingers a breath of air away from the grip of the handbrake, eyes darting, pulse slightly raised, our chat in bullet points at best, has been good for me, too. It's a reminder of just how many things we have to think about when we drive a car. It's easy to forget, isn't it? That's what I tell her when someone who clearly has forgotten, remonstrates from the car behind.
There's the choice of gear, just enough press and depress of pedals, the right-a-bit, left-a-bit, left-hand-down, right-hand-down, the reversing around a corner – six inches from the kerb and don’t forget to check for other cars as you direct the back of the car which seems, oh such a long way away, around an apparent blind corner - the road signs (circle or triangle, are the colours significant?), the pedestrian crossings, the give way to the right - just not on this exit on this roundabout - the don't-drive-too-fast-now-get-your-speed-up…
It's a wonder anybody manages to drive at all. If I had to have a driving lesson at my age, I'd need a two hour kip to recover afterwards.
Now, I understand and indeed, console my daughter with the knowledge that after a while, it all becomes very 'unconscious' which means that while we're steering, changing gear, checking our mirrors with our unconscious brain, we're hyper-conscious of the potential for that car to pull out in front of us.
That's the theory.
|Pic courtesy of the American Safety Council|
But what happens when we introduce something else into the driving mix? What happens when we glance at a text and decide we can quickly answer it? After all, 'yes' is only three letters and we could type that with our eyes closed. And what of social media and that Twitter Notification or a Friend Request that's flashed up on screen? No need to even touch the phone to know that it's – can it be? No way! It's John Smith from school. Phew! His hair's not quite as lush as it used to be! Or how about Snapchat? A photo whilst driving wouldn't harm, would it? Hey, we don't even need to take our eyes off the road to get our reaction across. What happens when we divide our hyper-conscious brain between driving and another task?
More people die.
Those are the preliminary findings of the National Safety Council in America which suggest that 'motor vehicle deaths were 8% higher than in 2015 than in 2014'. This increase is after road fatalities in much of the world had been going down. You can read more about this here.
Nobody is suggesting that anti-social behaviour at the wheel is entirely the cause of this worrying trend but it is certainly considered to be a factor in it. So, until mobile phone usage is considered by drivers to be as dangerous as drink driving, other methods of prevention are needed.
Enter the Textalyzer.
|Pic courtesy of the New York Times|
Police in New York are interested in a prototype of a Textalyzer which would work much like a breathalyser at the scene of a road traffic incident by tapping into the driver's phone and confirming whether or not the phone had been used during the journey. Read more in the excellent New York Times article here.
There's legislation to be passed and privacy laws need to be respected, but I, for one, would embrace its introduction into this country. Why? Because when I was thinking about the main character, Tori, in Glass Houses, when I was researching the reality of coma, talking to emergency staff about what it's really like at the scene of a horrific road accident, and when I was thinking about the consequences of Tori's one stupid decision to text her husband from the motorway, how it affected her life, the life of her loved ones and, of course, the families of those who died at the scene, never was it more clear to me that from behind the wheel, there is no such a thing as a 'harmless text'.