Drivers need a persuasive ‘Greta Thunberg’ to educate on mobile phone danger

South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner believes a Greta Thunberg type personality is needed to help change public attitudes towards road safety as the debate surrounding the use of mobile telephones by drivers has intensified.

By Paul Whitehouse
Tuesday, 13 August, 2019, 20:08
Dr Alan Billings

Using mobile handsets at the wheel is illegal and attracts six penalty points where drivers are caught, but a report published by MPs on the Commons Transport Select Committee suggests hands free devices – now part of the standard gadgetry on most new cars – can be just as distracting to motorists.

Expert advice to the committee is that the distraction caused by using mobiles while on the road is the equivalent of being at the alcohol limit for drink-driving, suggesting there should be public consultation over the issue.

But PCC Dr Alan Billings has warned that widespread prosecution of motorists could cause a public backlash unless the level of risk was properly understood by the public and said: “We need a Greta Thunberg to tell us how to behave properly on the road.”

The teenage Swede has put herself at the forefront of the campaign to prevent climate change and now has an international audience as a result of her eloquent arguments and position as part of a generation which could be seriously affected by global warming.

Dr Billings said there were many outside influences which could act as distractions to drivers and said: “I think we have to take public opinion along with us.

“If we are going to enforce these things, you have to take the public with you because otherwise you will breed terrible resentment between the public and police.

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“You can see why it is necessary, but there is a big educational job to be done, so we are doing these things willingly rather than grudgingly.

“I think we have to step back a bit and think carefully about how we do make driving safe,” he said.

There were various issues around driver safety and enforcement which raised questions, he said.

He also questioned how the law would be enforced if using hands-free devices became illegal because it would be difficult to see those committing offences, unlike drivers holding a handset.

Dr Billings was aware of lorry drivers committing tachograph offences – continuing to drive outside their permitted hours without a break – having their fines paid by their employing company because it made more economic sense to them to do so than restrict drivers to the legal limit of time spent on the road.