Monday, 05 March 2012

3.5 million licence holders like this From time to time I have a stab at the habit of using a mobile phone while driving, because it combines two themes powerfully relevant to neighbourhood life - community safety, and respect. The logic is stark: if someone uses their phone while driving past me, I get an unequivocal message that they think their communication is more important than my safety, or that of the child I might happen to be walking with. Straightforward, brazen disrespect. Some time ago, walking round my area and watching carefully, I calculated that in 1 out of every 20 cars that passed me, the driver was using their phone. That was just for voice communication. OK, you wanna get into email and social networking? Research – proper research - claims that eight per cent of drivers (and 24 per cent of 17-24 year old drivers) admit to using a smartphone for emails and social networking while driving. (For sources, see the IAM press release). Surprise surprise, follow up research by the Transport Research Laboratory shows that accessing sites such as Facebook while behind the wheel had a more dramatic impact on reaction times and driving awareness than texting, alcohol and cannabis. ‘Participants who were sending and receiving Facebook messages saw their reaction times slowed by 38% and often missed key events. They were also unable to maintain a central lane position or respond quickly to a car in front changing speed.’ Somewhat forlornly, the report hopes that ‘it may be possible to develop a smartphone application which restricts access to some functions of the phone while driving.’
Neighbouring and mental health Being a neighbour is not necessarily straightforward: managing the relationships can be tricky and stressful. Those of us who have positive, easy-going relationships with our neighbours have much to be thankful for, the value of which is easily overlooked. One of the problems in engaging with any neighbour at a mutually-acceptable level on the spectrum between provocatively negative and intrusive, is to assess the other’s communication impulse and readiness. Somehow you have to find out where they are on the scale between ‘gab about everything endlessly’ to stubborn dull silence about most aspects of life as it passes by; and they have to do the same for you. At any point on this range, but especially at the extremes, your neighbour could be someone with mental health problems. And as Clare Allan suggests in a Guardian article today that I encourage you to read, ‘in the age of the "big society", professional support is being cut dramatically. Situations such as this are going to become ever more common.’ So are we ready for it, as a moderately-sized society? How good are we at connecting at the right level – not too close, not too easily drawn-in, but close enough to react fast in case of real need - with neighbours whose mental health is not what it might be? It’s hard to think of anything more important to get right, at local level; but I fear there will be many tales of avoidance, misapprehension, ignorance and recoil.

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