And we thought we were wedded to our cell phones
Recently, one of my colleagues interviewed the CEO of a Silicon Valley-based startup company. As I was editing his article, I noticed with some shock the interviewee declaring that, on his morning commute to work at an average speed of five to eight miles per hour, he observed 95% of his fellow commuters driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other clutching their mobile phone. Now, he may have been exaggerating somewhat but, even at an estimate, 95% is an incredibly high number. Driving whilst using a mobile phone has, for some time, been an offence in England, Scotland and Wales currently punishable with a £200 fine and six penalty points on your driving licence - 12 points means automatic disqualification. Repeat offenders face a £1,000 fine and a six-month driving ban. Drivers who recently passed their driving test will also risk having their licence revoked.
Fair enough I say. No-one can make me believe that using a mobile phone whilst driving is compatible with paying due care and consideration to the often challenging task of negotiating rush hour traffic. And I don’t believe that London roads are any less congested than those of California. Statistics show that more accidents occur at low speeds than higher, so that’s not an excuse either. I’m not writing this with a holier-than-thou attitude; some years ago, I was also nabbed by a traffic cop for the same offence. The fact that my car was stationary at the time in bumper-to-bumper traffic and I was only calling the office to say that I’d be late made no difference. Mea culpa.It is an offence that I have never repeated. Even the new, higher penalties seem not to have deterred many other drivers however. I am constantly appalled by the number of times I’ve been cut up by other motorists using their mobiles. The fact is, it’s downright dangerous.
I am no stranger to driving in the United States, although never in California. I lived in New York city for a couple of years in the early nineties. California does, however, ban all cell phone use while driving. Which makes one wonder if the state’s traffic police simply turn a blind eye to it. After all, in Silicon Valley using a mobile is only marginally less important than breathing.
Simon Duval Smith
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