SMS: Whatever Else Shorten Is, He’s A Public Menace

FOOTAGE of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten simultaneously driving his car on Kingsway in South Melbourne and apparently sending a text message shows that whatever else he may be and whatever people otherwise think of him, Shorten is a threat to public safety and a menace to other road users. Regrettably, he isn’t Robinson Crusoe in this sense, and it’s time Police got serious about removing this scourge from our roads once and for all.

I will be back later today with another article more attuned to matters political, and for once I’m not going to tear into the deficiencies of Bill Shorten on the (many) grounds this column has pursued him, with increasing vigour, over the past two years.

But for the second time in not much more than a month, he has been “at it again” on Melbourne’s roads; this time — thanks to the Murdoch press — footage has surfaced of Shorten driving along Kingsway in South Melbourne, at the very minimum reading something on his mobile phone if not actually sending a text message himself, and it comes in the aftermath of the opposition “leader” crashing a different vehicle into a row of parked cars in inner-city Carlton, on the other side of town.

On that occasion, Shorten admitted he’d spilt hot coffee in his lap — begging the question of what in hell he was doing drinking coffee whilst driving in the first place — and whilst many people, both in the comment sections of online newspapers and in general chit-chat, suspected he may have been driving with a phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, nothing to substantiate such suspicions emerged at that time.

This time, Shorten hasn’t been quite so lucky.

This column has, in the past, sporadically published content specifically dealing with the menace this type of driver misbehaviour poses — see here, here and here — and it frustrates and incenses me that not only is the message about appropriate conduct at the wheel of a motor vehicle not sinking in, but that so rampant is the practice of phone use whilst driving that even supposed leaders like Shorten are guilty of it: so much for leading community standards by example.

The attached article from the Herald Sun (and the damning footage Shorten didn’t even try to deny) has it all: the car didn’t take off when the traffic light turned green. It swerved in and out of its lane, hardly surprising when the driver — Shorten — was too busy doing something else. It was travelling about 20kph below the 60kph speed limit, and on a road like Kingsway that handles vast volumes of traffic every day, drivers who sit so far below the speed limit are irritating enough anyway (and at 11.07am, the excuse of peak hour didn’t apply to Shorten) without them senselessly endangering other drivers’ lives with this sort of thing.

Anyone who knows that part of inner southern Melbourne at all knows that there is a multitude of side streets and slip lanes into which a driver could quickly and easily turn, safely stop their car, and either make a call or read and/or return a message. If you look at the footage the Hun has posted today, Shorten actually drives past several of these streets with his phone in his hand and makes no attempt to deviate or stop.

As the Hun notes, the fine in Victoria for mobile phone use whilst driving is $443 and four demerit points: it is to be hoped Victoria Police issue such a penalty against Mr Shorten at their earliest convenience today, and I would add that his admission of guilt, having been confronted by the footage taken by the Herald Sun reader who filmed it, does not and must not exonerate him from the punishment that would be meted out to anyone else doing the same thing.

I spend a huge amount of time every week on Melbourne’s roads and, for one reason or another, get a good look at driver behaviour in Sydney and Brisbane regularly; the problem is everywhere, and given the propensity for drivers to kill people through using their phones in their cars it is to be hoped an example is made of Mr Shorten: not because we are utterly opposed to him politically, but because a high-profile miscreant engaging in dangerous and potentially culpable road behaviour is an opportunity to send a message to ordinary motorists who also think they are entitled to endanger the lives of others — and themselves.

I will be back later in the day, as indicated, with another article on a different subject, but whatever else people think of him, Bill Shorten has repeatedly shown himself to be a threat to public safety, and is representative of a menace on our roads that requires a concerted and sustained effort to stamp out and eliminate. It simply isn’t good enough.


Texting And Driving: News Limited Picks Up The Cause

FOLLOWING our article at the beginning of the month on the dangers of using mobile phones to send and receive text messages whilst driving, the Murdoch press across the country is this weekend taking up the campaign to rid our roads of this scourge with the potential to needlessly kill.

Back on the first of June, I posted an article about idiot drivers on our roads who pay more attention to their mobile telephones than they do to the road; God forbid they actually concentrate on their driving.

Today — refreshingly — the same issue is being pursued by the Murdoch press across Australia, and it is to be hoped that their campaign makes some impact.

Readers can access the version published in Melbourne’s Herald Sun here if they are yet to see the pieces in question.

It’s a problem that just seems to be spiralling out of control; in the four weeks since I published the earlier article on the perils of texting and driving, it seems that everywhere you look now, when on the road, there are people engaging in this insidious habit.

Indeed, just this morning I was given “the finger” by a driver ahead of me who remained stationary at an intersection, typing a text message, after traffic signals had turned green; I gave him a toot of the horn — and he in turn proceeded to drive and continue texting, narrowly missing a row of parked cars as he swerved all over the road in Melbourne’s affluent inner eastern suburbs.

There are some — there are always some, whose excrement-filled brains are impervious to common sense and sanity — who will dismiss all of this as some kind of finger-wagging wowserism.

The reality is that it is no joke, nor something to be dismissed at will; those who engage in this practice are a menace to themselves, and to other road users, and the sooner they are either stopped from doing it or removed from the road permanently, the better.

Clearly, with others picking up the cudgels on this issue, I wanted to reinforce it through this column.

I encourage all readers to heed the message, and — if you know people who do this, on the “it can’t happen to me” principle — to find some way of getting through them.

It will be far preferable to see them alive and inconvenienced, for whatever period of delay is required before they can get off the road and take or send the messages they are currently tapping away at when they are supposed to be driving, than it will be to attend their funerals.

Or those of the people they end up killing.

And if they have so little regard for the safety and welfare of other road users — if not for themselves — then firmer measures are well and truly justified to try to stop them.


State Issues: Cars And SMS Texting Do Not Mix

TWO YEARS AGO — when this site was in its infancy — I posted an article talking about road management and traffic enforcement. At the time I pointed out that the issues are political, and that politicians can fix them, and there’s an issue from that early piece that needs to be revisited.

It’s easy to forget that as often as we talk about elections and leadership, debts and deficits, and scandals and strategic brilliance, that at the other end of the same pool of subjects are the frontline issues that these things directly affect: health, education and so forth.

I wanted to post on just such an issue that is the preserve of state governments because I think the time is past due that something is done about it — namely, the insidious and downright dangerous practice of people driving around punching out text messages.

That early old post, by the way, can be accessed here, but one scenario I outlined in it — which was a direct record of something that happened the day I wrote it — said

The green car is moving slowly; it stops five car lengths short of the barrier line, and in three hops, closes that gap out. When the car stops, I notice that the reflection of the young girl driving it, from her rear vision mirror, shows her looking at her crotch. The traffic lights turn green; after a delay of a few seconds, the green car starts moving, but something is still wrong: the car, so ever slightly, is swerving in and out of its lane. When safe, I change lanes and flatten it to get past the little green car…and as I pass and shoot a look at the driver, it’s clear she is sending an SMS text message on her mobile phone.

There is a new kind of filth in the drivers’ seats of cars across this country; misguidedly immortal in their outlook and possessed of a complete and cavalier disregard for the safety of every driver on the road — themselves included — they spend their driving time reading text messages, tapping away at their phones, and embodying what I think is the #1 public menace in daily life right now.

My purpose in raising this is because readers will (naturally) fall into one of two camps: those that do tour around the streets and highways using their phones to send messages, and those who would never do such a thing; I will be interested in the comments that come back from this.

I think the focus of Police on speed and alcohol is entirely appropriate and, indeed, effective; but an integrated road safety campaign requires a much broader focus, and with the considerable amount of time I spend on the road I am in no way convinced mobile phone use gets the attention it deserves.

Mind you, I’m not talking about people who talk on their phones; there’s a distinction, especially when it’s on a hands-free unit of some description, and therefore legal.

I am talking about people who (in no particular order) speed up, slow down, drift from side to side and in and out of their lanes…with the attendant risk of really doing some damage.

Or killing people.

Ten years ago — in a case that attracted national attention — a driver in Geelong avoided jail after killing a cyclist, Anthony John Marsh, whilst sending a text message when driving; the dead cyclist’s parents indicated they did not wish to see the woman, Sylvia Ciach imprisoned after she agreed to plead guilty to culpable driving causing death.

I remember the case at the time and thought how extraordinarily generous the dead man’s parents had been in telling the judge they didn’t want the convicted miscreant jailed because to do so would ruin a second life after their son’s.

But should it really have to come to that?

If anything, the problem is far worse ten years on. I’ll share a couple of personal examples.

Just prior to Christmas last year I was travelling in my car with my then-pregnant wife and three year old daughter, when we were rear-ended at a stop light by a 30-year-old in a ute at approximately 45 kilometres per hour; the guy made a weak excuse that “his brakes stopped working” but didn’t make any attempt to hide the fact his phone was in his hand.

I worked with a young girl a couple of years ago who thought it hilarious that I appeared in our office one morning, angry, after having just about been cleaned up by someone sending a text message. “Everyone does it!” she told me. “No,” I retorted, “only shitheads do it,” which apparently made me the shithead because I didn’t send messages when I was in the car too. She was 22 at the time: even by that age, the habit was ingrained.

And it isn’t just P-platers and young drivers who do it: men, women, old, young…they’re all at it. Just yesterday we had a near miss with someone who looked as if she was over 60, you guessed it: phone in hand, sending a text, and almost causing road carnage.

Something has to be done to stamp this mentality out.

On a typical day I would see dozens of people tap-tap-tapping away, not watching what they’re supposed to be doing; it is just so dangerous, and on a given day I estimate I’d have half a dozen near misses with people whose lack of attention almost causes accidents.

The odd thing is if you toot a horn at them, or have a word with them if you get to stop next to them, they are the most abusive and vitriolic individuals imaginable; it’s not their fault they almost killed you…of course it isn’t.

Most, if not all, of my readers can probably relate similar stories.

I think sending text messages is even more dangerous than drink driving; if you’ve had a few too many and you’re stupid enough to get behind the wheel, the chances are that you will at least be looking through the windscreen (even if you’re too impaired to react properly).

If you’re sending an SMS, you’re not even looking — or if you are, the chances of hitting something whilst peering furtively into your crotch (where they all seem to “hide” the phone) are very good: a car travelling at just 60kph covers nearly 17 metres every second — and that’s enough distance for something unexpected to happen.

I think it’s time law enforcement officers — the Police — got serious about removing these people from the road; if you’re prosecuted for texting whilst driving, a mandatory two-year suspension of licence plus a $1,500 fine should suffice in getting the message across.

As it stands, if you’re caught by the Police (and assuming you’re lucky enough not to have caused an accident or killed someone), a fine of a few hundred dollars and three points off your licence will see you on your way, free to do the same thing again, until you either run through all of your points or you’re jailed.

We get drunks off the road; in many ways, the scum who can’t control their urge to send SMS text messages are more dangerous, and should be treated accordingly.

What do you think? And if you agree, how can this be made a higher priority for those who make policy governing road use and enforcement?