By Lois Jones

THE Director General responsible for Traffic Control, Carlos Muñoz-Repiso, yesterday introduced a campaign to restrict drivers using mobile telephones whilst driving. Speaking on mobile handsets whilst driving increases the likelihood of an accident by as much as six times and fines for making or receiving calls “on the road” carry fines of up to 91 euros. The Director General explained that as of yesterday up until 29 June, Guardia Civil agents will patrol traffic in camouflaged vehicles to carry out surveillance on mobile phone use by drivers. With the collaboration of all local and national police forces, the Traffic department has planned to monitor and record 100'000 cars and determine the percentage of use of mobile phones by drivers on the road. Muñoz-Repiso indicated that although no precise figures were available for the number of accidents that occurred as a result of negligent driving by mobile phone users, “we do know that it is potentially a very dangerous situation and people must be dissuaded from indulging in it.” As a result of an enquiry carried out last month, he was able to reveal that a third of all drivers can admit to having spoken on a mobile telephone whilst at the wheel and 10 percent of them had been involved in some kind of incident due to negligence such as swerving away from the direction in which the car was travelling, illegal manoeuvring or even a collision. The enquiry, carried out amongst 1'800 drivers across Spain, showed that nine drivers out of ten carried a mobile telephone with them in their vehicles, 63 per cent had it switched on in the car and only 14 per cent had a “hands free” system that enabled them to speak on the telephone without taking their hands off the steering wheel. From research, it was also deduced that 2 per cent more women than men carry their mobile phones switched on in their cars.
More than half of those taking part in the enquiry had made or received a call on their mobile phones when driving during the 24 hours prior to their being interviewed. In the case of some professionals, the figures shot up such as in the incidence of travelling salesmen or commercial representatives with an average of 22 calls, and independent professionals with 12. The Director General made it clear that the campaign that was launched yesterday bears not only the intent to bring offenders to book and denounce this breach of the law, but also to make drivers more aware of the serious risks they are running when making or receiving a call, including causing an accident as a consequence of decreased concentration. The campaign will have the support of radio when information will be broadcast from different networks providing advice and raising awareness on this subject. Following the campaign, data collected by means of surveillance in towns and on the highways will be examined between 30 June and 4 July. An enquiry will then be made amongst drivers in order to find out to what extent they have been influenced by this initiative. It has been born out by different studies, that driving and speaking on a mobile telephone at the same time increases sixfold the possibility of an accident. This point was embellished by the Chief of the Traffic Section of the Guardia Civil Alfonso Ferrer. He explained that lack of concentration significantly delays driver reaction time, to the same extent as if he or she had consumed alcohol in quantities of between 0.50 to 0.80 grammes per litre of blood. The Traffic department points out that distraction is the principal factor underlying the risk of accidents and has highlighted the fact that last year 3'434 accidents on the highways - 820 of these which included the death of 941 people - were caused by distraction. Prevailing legislation only permits the use of a mobile phone if it is set up with a “hands free” system enabling the driver to have a conversation without using headphones or ear pieces, and without removing either hand from the steering wheel. In this respect, Muñoz-Repiso conceded that the fact that the law permits the use of “hands free” mobile phones is a result of recognition that “an allowance has to be made for means of communication that have been created in the Western world.”

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