By Ben Marsden, personal injury solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors
Supporting families and loved ones after road accidents, is without doubt, one of the most emotionally difficult aspects of our work at Hudgell Solicitors.
Loved ones can be taken away in an instant, leaving behind complete devastation for their families and friends. There is often no chance to say goodbye, no chance to spend final moments together, and no chance of life ever being the same again for those left behind.
So when then did people – celebrities in particular – feel it became acceptable to clearly flout the laws of the roads and put lives at risk, all in the name of gaining a bit more exposure for their careers?
Celebrities fuelling the ‘driving selfie’ craze
The latest culprit this week has been motor racing star Lewis Hamilton, who has been investigated by police in New Zealand for taking a selfie while riding a motorcycle.
Hamilton posted the videos on the social media platform Snapchat. One showed him pulling onto the motorway while a second pictured him riding the Harley Davidson.
Interestingly, this came on a day when I had been invited onto BBC Radio Humberside to discuss Department of Transport proposals to introduce tougher penalties for drivers caught using hand-held phones at the wheel.
It is being suggested that the number of penalty points given to a motorist using their phone while driving could rise from three to four, and that fines for using a phone whilst driving would also be raised, from £100 to £150.
However, given the obvious increasing disregard for the laws and danger posed, which we see each and every day when we drive and when we look on social media, I question whether it is enough. Remember, a fine for not paying your television licence can be up to £1,000.
Earlier this week we also saw Kim Kardashian and husband Kanye West filming themselves on SnapChat, singing one of the rapper’s songs while behind the wheel, and with their toddler daughter in the back seat.
US TV personality Chris Rock, singers Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, and Premier League footballer Carlton Cole have also all been happy to share pictures of themselves at the wheel, and whilst they may claim to not have been moving at the time, they are certainly helping fuel an alarming craze which safety campaigners have quite rightly been quick to criticise.
The concern is that there are too many messages suggesting it is acceptable to do other things whilst driving that are reaching a huge audience.
Tougher penalties for drivers using mobile phones
At Hudgell Solicitors, we see day to day the devastation caused by poor judgement and poor concentration behind the wheel, when supporting people through road accident claims. Our message is simple and consistent, when behind the wheel of any vehicle, you take on huge responsibility for not only the safety of those who travel with you, but all others on the road.
We are all now well aware of the dangers of drink-driving, a threat to safety which has been reduced greatly over the years as it has become increasingly socially unacceptable. Now the same has to happen for mobile use, which has been shown to reduce driver reaction times by 35 per cent.
We need tougher consequences to make a change now. Mobile use behind the wheel – whether it be texting, calling, filming or surfing social media – has to become as socially unacceptable as driving after a drink, and be subject to the same, stronger punishments in the courts.
We have supported a campaign by national road safety charity Brake to introduce new laws banning the use of hands-free phone systems in vehicles, as statistics have shown talking at the wheel makes drivers four times more likely to cause injury. I’d certainly be happy to see this change brought in, as it would leave no room for excuse.
Also, the social media and mobile phone companies, which are making huge profits from mobile technology, need to take responsibility for the consequences of their innovations.
‘Airplane Mode’ has existed for years to prevent mobile phones from interfering with plane navigation systems, so surely there is no reason why a ‘Drive Safe Mode’ could not be made mandatory for drivers to prevent mobile phones from interfering with drivers’ concentration.
Only by tackling this issue on the three different levels of legal deterrent, cultural awareness and technological restriction will we succeed in putting the safety of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians first.
We shouldn’t wait until thousands of lives have been lost. We should take action now.