Friday, 11 December 2009

London’s roads: objectively more dangerous for cyclists

More drivers are using hand-held mobile phones than before tougher penalties were introduced two years ago, the Transport Research Laboratory has said.

It found 2.6% of car drivers used hand-held phones in 2006 - when fines rose to £60 and three points could be added to licences - compared with 2.8% now.

Phone-using drivers are four times more likely to crash. The TRL said drivers' "reaction time is likely to be slower".

Its study in London involved almost 12,000 cars and taxis and 2,500 vans.

The ubiquitous one is naturally solicited for his car-centric opinions:

AA president Edmund King said: "I think we need more police campaigns, I think we need more publicity campaigns. If you think back to seat-belt wearing, 'clunk, click, every trip' and the Jimmy Saville stuff way back gradually had an effect but it does take time."

We don’t need campaigns. We need enforcement and we need penalties that aren't trivial. At present you have to be caught four times before you lose your licence. Driving while using a handheld mobile should be made an offence which results in immediate disqualification (let’s say a one-year driving ban), with a fixed £500 penalty.

Stephen Ladyman, the former transport minister who introduced the tougher penalties [tough? There’s nothing remotely tough about the current penalty, which is why so many drivers are happy to ignore it], said the legislation may need to be modified.

Note that weasel word ‘may’ rather than ‘quite obviously isn’t working and needs urgently to be toughened up’.

"The government is probably going to have to move to a situation where it's not just the police who can issue you a fine," he said. "Perhaps they're going to have to give powers to Police Community Support Officers or even traffic wardens if they spot you using your hand-held phone."

The problem with that is that even for parking offences traffic wardens have to take down copious details. You can bet any legislation won’t allow the sight of a driver using a mobile phone and the registration number to be adequate proof on its own.

In a statement, the government said: "We run publicity campaigns to highlight the dangers of calling or texting at the wheel.

Exactly. Froth over substance. Gordon Brown like all prime ministers is terrified of the road lobby and the Daily Mail. He’s the reckless and lawless motorists’ friend, not the safe driver's friend, or the cyclist’s friend or the pedestrian’s friend. After eleven years in government New Labour is too timid even to bring in a national ban on pavement parking.

And even though the government’s own research has shown that hands-free mobile phones are just as distracting for drivers, it plans to do nothing at all to ban them.

Hands-free mobile use by car drivers has risen consistently, from 1.2% in 2006 to 4.8% in 2009.

Meanwhile those police forces who do bother to crack down on mobile phone motorists sometimes discover the driver is guilty of other offences.