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?

Filthy Slug Peter Slipper Slithers Away From Speaker’s Chair

A distasteful episode in Australian politics ended tonight, as Liberal Party traitor and Speaker Peter Slipper quit his role for a belated return to the backbench. The development removes a blight on the Speakership, but deals Julia Gillard a humiliating and potentially fatal political blow.

It was the risky game that should never have been played, and not least by an unpopular minority government clinging to office by the tiniest of parliamentary margins.

Peter Slipper — at the time of his ascension to the Speakership last November — was already a character over whom many question marks hovered; for years, “Slippery Pete” had come to be known for such things as his frequent taxpayer-funded trips abroad, repeated mistakes with travel expense claims and so forth; as we have noted previously, there has always been plenty of interesting stories floating around about him.

At the time, however, the Gillard government wanted to break a promise: this time to Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, and specifically to avoid honouring a commitment to poker machine reform he had extracted from the ALP as the price for his support on matters of confidence and supply.

Cutting Wilkie adrift meant Labor needed to find an additional vote in the House of Representatives on which it could rely, and Slipper — happy to resign from the LNP to become Speaker — offered an easy if fraught solution.

As we now know, the simple solution quickly proved a curse, with fresh allegations over travel expenses coming to light, along with allegations of sexual harassment from a member of Slipper’s staff, James Ashby.

In the months that Slipper has been stood aside from official duties as Speaker whilst those allegations are investigated, he has retained in full the trappings of his office — including a vast amount of overseas travel funded by the Australian taxpayer.

Things were always destined to come to a head this week with the tabling in Court, as part of Ashby’s sexual harassment case against Slipper, transcripts of hundreds of SMS text messages sent by Slipper to Ashby — and many of these were overtly sexual in nature.

In fact, they weren’t “overtly sexual;” they were — largely — absolutely disgusting, and those not simply lewd and obscene for the apparent sake of it were highly  intrusive in their demands for personal information on Ashby, about his relationships, and of physical aspects of these that are hardly decent conversation subjects at the best of times, let alone between a parliamentary employer and his staffer.

And of course, many contained demeaning and misogynistic statements on women and about the nature of female genitalia.

Significantly, the veracity of the text messages has been conceded by Slipper. And as far as I’m concerned, his subsequent apology should be taken with a grain of salt.

For Gillard and her ministers — running a fabricated campaign accusing Liberal leader Tony Abbott of sexism and misogyny, and of all manner of ills in his dealings and relationships with women — it’s an especially poor look when such an overtly  misogynistic, sexist and downright inappropriate specimen as Slipper sits welcome and protected within the government’s own circle of influence.

It’s worse again for Gillard to have gone into Parliament this afternoon, all guns blazing, in an aggressive speech seeking to rip Tony Abbott to shreds over sexism and misogyny whilst seeking to protect Slipper, even after his disgusting text messages had been published across the country.

(If you missed this — here is a sample of the material in question).

But what really makes Gillard look ridiculous is that after she and her government effectively deployed their entire arsenal in Parliament to defend Slipper — who survived a vote to remove him from office in the process by one vote — Slipper was back, mere hours later, to publicly resign the Speakership.

Peter Slipper has achieved little in 25 years in Parliament, and contrary to his claims to have improved parliamentary standards as Speaker, the truth is that history will remember his time in the role for little more than the Speaker’s Procession.

If for anything other, that is, than for the self-inflicted scandals he generated.

He was a headache to the Liberal Party for much of this period, which was as relieved to be rid of him the day he accepted the Speakership as it was angered that the deal done effectively saw yet another conservative traitor propping a Labor government up in office.

But he became Labor’s problem to own from that day onwards, and even an outfit as inept and as politically incompetent as the ALP must surely have wondered what in hell it had saddled itself with.

Slipper — by virtue of his own questionable track record, the investigations and allegations currently on foot against him, and now with the revelation through his SMS communications of his idea of what constitutes appropriate standards of decency — is clearly unfit to hold the office of Speaker, and I would suggest unfit to hold elected office at all.

It was suggested to me earlier today that vetting SMS text messaging would be the latest new standard by which to judge politicians; this sarcastic comment was meant to indicate that Slipper had been crucified for essentially private communication that ordinarily should to have been off-limits.

I would counter that by saying that a) the substance of the messages were utterly, utterly inappropriate, and noxious in the extreme; b) such “private” communication is clearly inappropriate from an employer to an employee; and c) this is especially the case when the employer is an elected representative holding senior executive office, under the Crown, and in the service of the Commonwealth on behalf of the people of Australia.

It is unclear how Slipper reconciles the content of these messages with his senior role in the ultra-conservative branch of the Anglican Church to which he belongs.

I would also note that the communications are evidence in a lawsuit against him.

So much for Peter Slipper and all the bullshit in his resignation speech about his improvement and upholding of “standards.”

The text messages could be dismissed as the sex-obsessed ravings of an adolescent and puerile psyche in any other context.

But in this case, they emanate from a 62-year-old man who parades himself as a beacon of inscrutable adherence to rigorous standards of proper parliamentary conduct.

At best, they might be viewed as personal communications made in extremely poor taste by a man who should have known better.

At worst, they point to someone with…well, we’ll call them “problems,” and especially so where women are concerned.

Just what Gillard and her acolytes are attempting to crucify Abbott for.

And Gillard now wears the opprobrium of having fought tooth and nail to protect Slipper — an unbridled political liability in every sense — only to have that effort flung in her face in the form of his resignation, and her government and her Prime Ministership plunged back into crisis as a result.

Not that Gillard had any choice: defend Slipper, and you’re an amoral vacuum. Throw him overboard and the whole house of cards could come down.

She was wedged. And whilst she chose to pursue the first option, the outcome of the second was realised anyway. It was the worst of both worlds, politically, for Gillard and her government.

A no-confidence motion in the Gillard administration must now ensue; for as sure as night follows day, the Coalition — with the prospect of Labor down another vote, and with the scent of an election win in its nostrils — will inevitably test the numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives in a move that could well bring down the government.

And if such a vote does not occur — or if it does, and the government survives — Slipper’s resignation reopens the door to the revival of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader.

The end result today of the appalling political misjudgement in appointing Slipper, combined with the fact Rudd and Slipper have always been friendly, means that Gillard is yet again vulnerable to any deterioration of the government’s standing in published opinion polls.

Either way, Slipper still controls the fate of the government to a large degree: he can vote with it, he can frustrate it by selectively voting with his former conservative colleagues, or he can torpedo it by resigning from Parliament and forcing a by-election and with it, a likely general election that the ALP would almost certainly lose.

How this plays out from here remains to be seen, but by falling on his sword, Slipper has ensured that politics in Australia is back on a knife-edge, and that quite literally anything — anything — can happen.

I would very simply like to say I am delighted to see Slipper resign; despite my outrage at his appointment as Speaker in the first place, I was ecstatic to see him walk out of the Liberal Party, which will not miss him.

His resignation from the Speakership is the second leg in a three-part journey to get rid of this leech from Australian politics once and for all; and I hope — I just hope — he stands as an Independent in Fisher, so his humiliation at being trounced electorally by Mal Brough, a man he described as a c—, is complete.

This is a filthy individual of absolutely no worth or use to the political process in this country.

It is utterly indefensible for Gillard to have attempted to protect him, but then again, when faced with a choice between real principle and amoral nihilism, the modern Labor Party only ever chooses the latter.

Peter Slipper warrants the contempt of the electorate, not its sympathy. It’s inarguable that he would be upset by the course of action he has felt compelled to take, but it is an entirely self-inflicted situation. And whilst Slipper might somehow believe he has added to standards of parliamentary procedure, the average voter couldn’t care less, and won’t care less — irrespective of anything further he has to say.

Good riddance.