Phones, alcohol subjects of new driving campaigns

Summary

A drink-driving campaign will see police making routine checks this weekend, while another tries again to convince drivers to put down their smartphones

Driving dangers

Champion gymnast and Flanders’ sportswoman of the year Nina Derwael is the face of a new campaign highlighting the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving. Traffic association Vias launched the TV campaign this week, in which Derwael is seen practising a routine on the bars before she is distracted by a message from a friend and falls to the floor.

“In traffic, there’s no mat to catch you if you’re distracted,” she says. “Do what I do: in the car, phone off.”

Vias carried out a survey among 6,000 Belgians that shows that drivers under the age of 35 are particularly likely to use their smartphones while driving: One in five admitted to having read messages or emails behind the wheel in the previous month. One in 10 of those aged 35 and 54 admitted the same.

The survey also shows that 18% of young drivers also send messages or post photos on social media while driving, with 12.5% saying they take selfies or record videos while driving.

Reactions times double

“With the rise of smartphones with touchscreens, operating a mobile phone has become more difficult,” Stef Willems of Vias said. “The smooth surface means users can no longer feel the location of the keys, which requires more visual attention.”

Looking down when reading or typing can lead to drivers reducing their speed and veering out of their lane. Reaction times also double: between 2.2 and 2.6 seconds instead of an average of 1 second.

“That naturally leads to very dangerous situations and accidents,” Willems added. “It’s very difficult to unlearn that behaviour, but we must continue to make it clear to people that this is not acceptable, and what the dangers are.” He called for more police checks and fines to tackle the issue.

The aim is not to fine as many irresponsible drivers as possible, but to make everyone aware of the dangers of driving under the influence

Meanwhile, police are aiming to reinforce the dangers of drinking and driving during a zero-alcohol weekend. The campaign begins today (Friday) at 18.00 and runs until 6.00 on Monday, during which time local and federal police will stop drivers and test their blood alcohol levels.

“The aim is not to fine as many irresponsible drivers as possible, but to make everyone aware of the dangers of driving under the influence,” a police spokesperson said.

Similar campaigns took place twice last year. In January, 1.7% of the 37,000 drivers tested were found to have drunk too much; this fell slightly to 1.67% in June.

There were 4,710 accidents in Belgium leading to death or injury that involved a driver under the influence of alcohol in 2018. The figures for 2019 are not yet available.

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