Road Safety Week is the UK’s flagship event to promote safer road use, coordinated annually by the charity Brake and involving thousands of schools, communities and organisations across the country. Road Safety Week 2013 takes place 18-24 November with support from the Department for Transport.

Thousands of people in organisations, schools and community groups are working together to promote life-saving awareness during Road Safety Week, for example Licence Bureau Ltd is working in partnership with construction company Skanska to coordinate two Brake 2young2die workshops at Kings Langley Secondary School. They will be joined by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Services who will be performing a live crash extrication to demonstrate the devastation caused by a crash. Licence Bureau is also teaming up with national Road Safety Week sponsors Specsavers to offer eye tests to the students, highlighting the importance of good vision to road safety.

Charity reveals half a million UK drivers have points for mobile phones and other distractions

A national campaign launched today (18 Nov) by the charity Brake in Road Safety Week calls on drivers and employers to tune in to road safety, to prevent appalling crashes caused by multi-tasking at the wheel. It is urging drivers to turn off phones or put them in the boot, and calling on more employers to ban phone use (including hands-free) for employees driving on company time and tell staff to end calls with anyone who picks up while driving. The campaign is being launched almost exactly a decade after hand-held mobiles were banned at the wheel, and coincides with a week-long police enforcement campaign.

Brake, and partners Specsavers and Romex, are revealing statistics confirming the extent of driver distraction on UK roads, and its impact on vulnerable road users:

  • More than half a million UK drivers (575,000) have points on their licence for using their mobile phone at the wheel or being otherwise distracted (available by region and postcode). One in 15 (6.5%) of these drivers have six points or more for driving distracted and four in five (78%) are male [1];
  • Six in ten children (62%) report being driven by a driver talking on a phone and nearly eight in 10 (79%) have spotted drivers on mobile phones outside their school or home – suggesting the majority of children are being endangered by drivers for the sake of a call or text [2].

The campaign is being supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who are coordinating a week-long campaign of heightened police enforcement across the country targeting drivers on hand-held phones.

New research out today by distraction expert Dr Amy Guo at Newcastle University [3] highlights the increased risk of turning your car into an extension of the office. It shows the harder you have to concentrate on a task, such as dealing with work-related calls, the slower your reactions. This demonstrates why talking on hands-free is just as risky as hand-held, because it’s concentrating on the conversation that’s the main distraction.

Distraction reduces hazard perception and increases reaction times in a similar way to drink-driving, making drivers much more likely to cause deaths and injuries [4]. While employers wouldn’t dream of allowing employees to drive under the influence of alcohol, most still allow and even encourage mobile phone use at the wheel, putting their employees and other road users at serious risk.

By introducing clear policies requiring drivers not to make or take calls while driving, even hands free, companies can empower drivers to follow best practice safety advice and focus on the task at hand. Those that do can reap the benefits of a safer and therefore a more cost-efficient fleet.

Companies can get straightforward advice on implementing such a ban and other measures to improve fleet safety by subscribing to Brake’s Fleet Safety Forum enabling them to access discounted and free places at Brake’s professional events, and a host of online guidance and other resources.

The tune in to road safety campaign is being launched in Road Safety Week by events and activities in workplaces, schools, universities and town centres across the UK, highlighting the dangers of taking your eyes, hands or mind off the road. It is being supported by families who have suffered the horror of a bereavement or serious injury in a distracted driving crash and want to speak out (see below).

Thousands of people in organisations, schools and community groups are working together to promote life-saving awareness during Road Safety Week, for example:

  • Energy supplier npower is using the week as an opportunity to raise staff awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, including daily intranet posts followed by a quiz to test people’s knowledge and engagement with the messages, with a prize for the winning entry. The company is also running a series of hour-long workshops for staff covering defensive driving and avoiding distractions.
  • Rail infrastructure company Network Rail is holding an event at its head office to raise awareness amongst staff and supply chain contacts about driver distraction. The company will be using a simulator to demonstrate driver distraction and displaying Brake Road Safety Week branded materials, as well as distributing internal communications to educate staff on the theme.
  • Licence checking company Licence Bureau Ltd is working in partnership with construction company Skanska to coordinate two Brake 2young2die workshops at Kings Langley Secondary School. They will be joined by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Services who will be performing a live crash extrication to demonstrate the devastation caused by a crash. Licence Bureau is also teaming up with national Road Safety Week sponsors Specsavers to offer eye tests to the students, highlighting the importance of good vision to road safety.
  • Oilfield support services companies ASCO and Enviroco are taking trucks into schools in Norfolk and Aberdeenshire to raise awareness among children about road safety by demonstrating the limited visibility from within the cab of a large vehicle.
  • Intelligent transport systems company Clearview Traffic Group is working with a pre-school in Oxfordshire to coordinate a Brake Beep Beep! Day, engaging young children in fun road safety activities. The company is also donating high visi-vests and reflective snap bands to children in local schools in its local area, and to a school in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Fluid sealing products company Garlock GB Ltd is holding a Bright Day, when employees will wear their brightest clothes to raise money for Brake and raise awareness about the need for drivers to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, especially in autumn and winter.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity, said: “We’re living in an age when being constantly connected is the norm; more and more of us have smartphones and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute. While there are enormous business benefits to this technology, it’s also posing dangerous temptations to drivers to divert their concentration away from the critical task at hand, often putting our most vulnerable road users in danger. Many people who wouldn’t dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and consequences just as horrific. We’re calling on drivers to tune into road safety: turn off your phone or put it in the boot, and never try to multi-task at the wheel. We’re also appealing to everyone to refuse to chat to someone on the phone who’s driving, to help them arrive safely. Companies can help to make this common practice by introducing a complete ban on phone use at the wheel and on staff speaking to anyone who’s driving.”

Road Safety Minister Robert Goodwill said: “The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world and improving this record remains a top priority for the Government. That is why we have increased fines for using a mobile at the wheel, made it easier for the police to tackle bad driving behaviour and we are looking at how we can improve young driver safety. I welcome Brake’s Road Safety Week initiative which helps raises awareness of the importance of road safety.”

National Policing Lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Suzette Davenport said: “As technology has advanced, we’ve seen a change in the behaviour of some drivers who are allowing themselves to become distracted and putting themselves and others at risk. While a phone call may be important for a few minutes, killing or seriously injuring someone has life changing consequences. While most road users are careful, considerate and law-abiding; a minority are not. Too many collisions are caused each year by those who use excessive speed, drive without a seatbelt, drink or drug drive, or are distracted at the wheel. Enforcement and awareness schemes are being carried out by police across the country as part of Road Safety Week, which is an ideal time for drivers to remember the dangers they can face, alongside an opportunity for forces to apprehend those who flout traffic laws.”

Facts on driver distraction

Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do on a regular basis: you’re operating a potentially dangerous machine in an unpredictable, public environment so it requires full concentration at all times.

In the United States, death from distracted driving has been increasing and researchers put this down to increases in drivers using smart technology [5]. In the UK Ofcom has warned of increasing levels of smartphone addiction by users who are unable to go without checking their phone for short periods or through the night [6].

It is believed around one in five crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction and drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times as likely to crash [7]. Some very complex tasks, like talking on a phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, increase this risk even more [8].

The effect of talking on a phone on driving has been shown to be worse than drinking certain levels of alcohol. Driver reaction times are 30% slower while using a hands-free phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood (the current UK limit) and nearly 50% slower than driving normally and soberly [9].

Other forms of distraction not involving technology also cause risk. If you’re eating or drinking at the wheel, you are less able to react; some studies have suggested the risk is as great as when talking on a phone [10].

Heightened emotions such as stress, anger or upset are cognitive distractions that significantly impede your ability to drive safely. The level of distraction depends on the level of distress [11].

Drivers caught using a hand-held phone at the wheel to call or text face a (recently increased) fixed penalty notice of £100 and three points, or may be offered a course instead of taking points. In 2012, more than 10,000 drivers caught using their phone at the wheel took a ‘what’s driving us’ course, instead of opting for points. In some cases drivers may go to court and face disqualification and maximum fine of £1,000. Drivers who cause a crash and kill someone while using a phone could face up to 14 years in prison, as well as the knowledge that someone died because of their decision to use their phone at the wheel.

Read more facts on driver distraction.

Case studies

Joe Wilkins, 39, from Eynsham in Oxfordshire, was killed when cycling in May 2012 by a driver who was eating at the wheel and claims he didn’t spot him. Read more.

Joe’s partner Nicci Saunders is supporting Road Safety Week. She says: “My family has been blown apart. Our two young daughters have to grow up without their dad and me without my soul mate. The girls have been utterly traumatised and still wake in the night crying for their Daddy. I am trying to support them through it, but I miss him terribly too. None of our lives will ever be the same again. Road crashes are avoidable, and Joe’s death could have been prevented so easily by the driver giving his full attention to driving. No one wants to go through what we are going through so I’m asking everyone to help prevent tragedies like this by pledging to tune into road safety and never allowing yourself to be distracted at the wheel. Please remember it doesn’t just happen to other people.”

When Imogen Cauthery, 26, from Crouch End in London, was nine years old she was hit by a driver on a mobile phone. Imogen was in a coma for ten days, and suffers from a life-long brain injury that causes her seizures and memory loss. Read more.

Imogen is supporting Road Safety Week. She said: “When you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, your actions and decisions are critical. And if you don’t respect the power you have, and give driving your full attention, then you could inflict enormous suffering on someone else, or yourself. It’s awful that so many drivers think it’s okay to use their phone at the wheel, when someone could pay the price of their life for that call or text. Please don’t take your licence for granted; tune into road safety and make a commitment to stay focused and never use technology at the wheel.”

Jemma O’Sullivan, 22, was killed in a crash caused by a texting truck driver on M18 near Doncaster in 2010. Her parents, Vincent and Margaret O’Sullivan, are supporting Road Safety Week. Read more.

Vincent said: “Jemma was a bright and intelligent young woman, who brought nothing but joy to everyone who had the pleasure of meeting her. Our family will never be the same without her; not being able to see Jemma to say goodbye and losing her in this way is something that we will have to deal with for the rest of our lives. It is unbearable to think Jemma was killed for the sake of a text message. We are appealing to all drivers: please don’t kid yourself you can get away with multi-tasking at the wheel. No text, call or other distraction is worth taking someone’s life and inflicting terrible suffering on an innocent family.”

[1] Analysis of Freedom of Information requests to the DVLA by Brake in August 2013.
[2] Results of a survey of more than 13,000 children age 7-11 from across the UK by Brake, Romex and Specsavers, conducted May – October 2013. See regional breakdown.
[3] Further details of this research are available on request. Contact Brake for information.
[4] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[5] Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008, University of North Texas, 2010
[6] The Communications Market 2011, Ofcom, 2011
[7] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[8] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005
[9] Using a hands-free mobile whilst driving can be more dangerous than drink driving, Transport Research Laboratory, 2009
[10] Crash dieting: The effects of eating and drinking on driving performance, Brunel University, 2008
[11] Emotionally involving telephone conversations lead to driver error and visual tunnelling, The Open University, 2011

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