New safety campaign alerts drivers to dangers of mobile phone use
A campaign has been launched urging drivers not to touch their mobile phones at the wheel, prompted by the recent rise in road accidents.
“Post-COVID, people are back on the road and statistically we are seeing an increase in accidents and collisions caused by mobile phone distractions,” said a Transport Malta spokesperson.
An awareness campaign against drink driving is being added in the run up to Christmas and the New Year.
“Drunk driving and mobile phone use while driving do not happen on a seasonal basis, but are critical issues that happen every day of the year,” the spokesperson said.
A 2019 European survey conducted by the Vinci Autoroutes Foundation (an observatory dedicated to changing driver behavior) showed that 97 percent of European drivers consider it dangerous to send text messages or emails and to read while driving, but one in four does. anyway.
75% of Europeans use their smartphones while driving
A survey conducted this year by the same foundation showed that 75 percent of Europeans use their smartphones while driving. Of these, 66 percent use the phone, 25 percent read or send text messages, 15 percent participate in remote work meetings and nine percent watch a film or video.
But why? Why is the urge so strong?
Psychiatrist Anton Grech notes that many have become addicted to their devices.
“There are several studies that show that worldwide we are seeing an increase in behavioral addiction to social media and the Internet. It is an addiction and not a habit because there is a strong urge and people feel unwell – like anxious – if they don’t check their phone.
“Another element that makes it an addiction is that people tend to do it at the expense of something more important — like driving,” Grech said.
For those who can’t resist the urge to check their phone while driving, he said, one solution is to put their phone well out of their reach.
In extreme cases, people may also need psychological help.
Malta is clearly not the exception when it comes to mobile use while driving. According to data obtained by the Local Enforcement Systems Agency, nearly 39,000 traffic violations were issued to motorists for this reason.
Almost 11,000 fines were handed out until October
This year, 10,970 fines were handed out to the end of October compared to 12,403 for the whole of last year, according to the data.
The number of these violations has more than doubled in the last five years: 4,665 were given in 2018, 5,071 in 2019 and 5,825 in 2020.
Traffic Police Inspector Nicholas Vella explained that the law is clear: it is illegal to touch your mobile phone while driving, even when stuck in traffic.
Last month, Prime Minister Robert Abela said talks were underway to drastically increase the fines for those caught using their cellphones while driving.
At the moment, motorists are fined €100 and given between three and six penalty points for the offence. They lose their license for two months if they accumulate 12 demerit points over a 12-month period.
Record 22 deaths so far this year
There have been more than 800 traffic accidents resulting in death or injury over the past three years, with a record 22 deaths so far this year.
Aldo Lombardi, whose wife, Marie Claire Lombardi, died when the motorcycle she was riding skidded on spilled olives on October 22, believes that, to be effective, any changes to the law must also increase the number of traffic penalty points deducted. Lombardi, who is a LESA compliance officer, said he believes cell phone use has contributed to many accidents.
Pierre Vella, chairman of the Road Safety Council, said that distraction is one of the main causes of accidents and mobile phone use has contributed to distraction.
“Just think of the time you spend looking at your mobile phone and the distance your vehicle travels. Can you afford those crucial seconds? For that very short period of time, your car changes from a commodity to a vehicle of destruction.”
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