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ISSUE 316: I listen to an awful lot radio, though it tends to be the stations that avoid punctuating the interesting chatty stuff about the news and sport of the day with that singing malarkey that I like. Unsurprisingly then, stuck in a traffic jam on the A1 as I drove home, I found myself engaged in a discussion on a popular BBC radio station. The topic of debate was the Department for Transport (DfT) opening a public consultation on stricter penalties for using a hand-held phone while driving: People still aren’t getting the message that using a phone (or doing anything else for that matter) while driving isn’t a good idea. As a result the DfT wants to push the penalty from £100 to £150 and is also looking for feedback on increasing penalty points for offenders from three points to four. My immediate reaction was ‘Seriously? This ban has been in place for over 12 years and people still aren’t getting the message?’. It seems ridiculous to me that there’s been a ban on using phones since the same year I started driving and it’s still prevalent enough to warrant tougher punishments. But while it’s laudable that the DfT is looking to impose tougher legislation, if the fine started out at £30 in 2003, rose from £60 to £100 ten years later and could soon be £150, does this penalty serve as an adequate deterrent? If we’re truly to put an end to this then surely what’s need is a campaign that is as hard-hitting as ‘Clunk Click Every Trip’. Driving without a seatbelt on has become a ‘social taboo’, as transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has pointed out – he feels that the same needs to become true of using a phone while driving. But why is it that people have such a hard time not using their phone while driving in the first place? I’ve never really understood it, but the BBC radio station had guest speakers explaining that drivers should remove the temptation of using a phone by placing it in the boot. It seems bizarre. But, as she had nothing better to do, being stuck in the same car in the same traffic jam as I was, my wife (a secondary school maths teacher) weighed in on the debate. She’s of the opinion that smart phone technology has not only affected the young minds she works with day in day out but the general public as well, and the result is that people struggle to concentrate for prolonged periods of time. If that’s true then it would seem that the depressing future of autonomous cars can’t come soon enough. Thankfully though, I have an alternative solution: Read James Ruppert’s news piece on page 5 of this week’s issue. There you’ll see why he’s of the opinion that we should all embrace the cassette again and in doing so become better, more diligent drivers – enjoy!

Chris Hope