herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Mobiles as deadly as drink, says RSA chief

DRIVING

USING a mobile phones while driving is a "modern scourge" which can cause the same devastating consequences as drink or drug driving, the head of the RSA has warned.

Liz O'Donnell, chairperson of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), said 'nomophobia' - the fear or being out of mobile contact - "clouds every driver's better judgment once inside their car".

Research found three in five Irish people have the condition, which affects half of the UK population and two thirds of US people.

Speaking at the Annual Conference of Addiction Counsellors of Ireland in Galway, Ms O'Donnell said Irish drivers use devices in their car four times more than their UK counterparts, with 8pc of Irish drivers observed using a phone while driving compared to just 2pc of UK drivers.

"It has reached near epidemic levels here," said Ms O'Donnell who warned there was no evidence that hands-free kits are any safer than driving with a mobile.

Justifiable

She said while it is not socially acceptable to use a mobile in a restaurant or on a date, it was totally acceptable for many to do so while driving.

"We know that it's dangerous in theory but it's become so normalised as part of our busy lifestyles that we've come to view spending time in the car as "dead time" that a mobile device can justifiably be put to more productive use," she said.

She said drivers checking a phone at traffic lights couldn't resist continuing once the car had started to move again, adding "we lose track of time and space when we're on devices, which affect the brain the way drugs do".

She compared drivers using a mobile to drink-driving as both happen by choice, but she warned society has not yet accepted using a phone while driving is as "dangerous and deplorable" as drink driving.

Ms O'Donnell said road deaths had fallen from 365 in 2005 to 196 last year. However, she warned they were on the rise since 2013, and insisted "we cannot sit on our laurels".

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