View from the Street: Mobile phones are our most dangerous blind spot

@DavidGaffney78

View from the Street: Mobile phones are our most dangerous blind spot

Have you ever considered what it would feel like to kill someone? I don’t mean some outlandish fantasy about throttling your obnoxious boss beside the photocopier with his own tie. Rather, have you ever thought about how you’d cope with the knowledge that you were directly responsible – even accidentally – for someone’s death?
 
Even the most vivid imagining of it will not come close to the relentless torment of living with that terrible weight for every minute, hour and day of the rest of your life.
 
Tomasz Kroker, a 30-year old lorry driver, has been in that position for nearly 400 days now. On 10th August 2016, his vehicle smashed into a stationary car at 50 miles per hour, killing Tracy Houghton, her sons Ethan, 13, and Josh, 11, and her 11-year-old stepdaughter Aimee. Kroker had been so engrossed in his mobile phone at the time that a judge, jailing him for 10 years in October, said he “might as well have had his eyes closed”.
 
Our sympathies inevitably lie with the devastated families Tracy and the children leave behind. But try to envisage how Kroker feels now: what he would give to travel back in time to that Berkshire road and this time to resist the temptation to look at his phone; to avoid the needless loss of four lives.
 
Let’s be frank. When it comes to cars and phones, most of us drivers have been there, done that. Perhaps it’s only by dint of good fortune that we avoided the same awful consequences.
 
We are slaves to our mobiles. Seconds after putting them down to do something more important – like steering a deadly weapon at speed through busy city streets – these tiny devices lure us back to check on them, in search of the dopamine hit that comes with someone liking our latest tweet or contribution to a Whatsapp group.
 
As someone who cycles on Scotland’s roads every day, I consider the use of phones by drivers to be bordering on an epidemic. I witness it on multiple occasions every single day. At times, it seems more the rule than the exception.
 
This is not some Cyclists Good/Drivers Bad debate. It’s simply that when you ride a bike it is much more apparent when those piloting the large vehicles around you are using their phones. Not only are you more attuned to erratic driving, for obvious reasons, but overtaking cars give the cyclist a clear line of sight into the driver’s seat.
 
Some vehicles are on the move while the person in charge of them fiddles with their phone; many more are stationary, with their handlers impatiently waiting at a junction or for a green traffic light. You might take the view that the former is considerably more dangerous and irresponsible than the latter, but both are equally criminal.
 
You may also believe that you, individually, are capable of safely operating a phone while you drive and that the law exists to prevent people less skilled than you from taking that risk. We all have that friend.
 
Well, that’s not what the law is for. It exists to protect innocents like Tracy Houghton and her children from the kind of dangerous, self-centred individuals who would prioritise their next text message over a stranger’s ability to draw another breath.
 
Police released footage of the Kroker incident, captured by a camera mounted on his lorry’s dashboard. It is extremely distressing viewing, but I would urge you to put down your phone now and watch it. It might just save a life.
  
David Gaffney is a partner at Charlotte Street Partners.