Sunday 1 May 2016

Multi-texting Driving

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'.

Glass Houses, ISBN-10: 1910692840, Published 9 June 2016. £8.99. Pre-order Urbane Publications, Amazon.


  1. Greta post Jackie. Such a worthy topic. it dreives me mad when i watch tv programmes and the police can only give the 'texter' a small fine. It should be treated like drink and drug driving and given much more severe penalties. All three can cause a death in a second. it's hard enough to concentrate on what other drivers around you are doing with out having such a lethal distractio at your fingertips.

    1. Totally agree, Carole. It does seem as though the tide is turning against mobile phone use in the car though, that people are starting to consider it as dangerous as drinking and driving. Better late than never. Thanks for reading :)

  2. Please excuse the atrocious spelling mistakes

  3. Totally agree! Just reading "The idiot brain" as recommended by you (very riveting book) and apparantly even using a hands free phone is not a lot better, our brains just aren't built for doing too many things at once. I know mine certainly isn't anyway!

    1. Yes, I was interested in that bit, too. I also read a great article where the writer asked whether we'd be happy to think that the driver behind was receiving a stressful call from his boss, or worse, some terrible news about a family member etc., whether it was hands-free or otherwise. Sobering. And I totally agree: I always think I can cook and speak on the phone at the same time and even doing those two very unconscious tasks, the cooking takes twice as long...

  4. Great post, Jackie, and a very important message. It's scary how much damage can be caused by a simple glance away. It must be a relief to know how sensible your daughter is.

    1. It's really scary isn't it. A friend's brother was killed when he was only 18. He drove into a tree as he changed his music cassette in the 80s. Awful. Mobile phones are our generation's nemesis, aren't they. It is a relief to know my daughter's taking driving seriously, but I'm not complacent...
      Thanks for reading! How are you? How's your writing?


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