Let’s start with a definition;
(n) – Language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms.
So why am I starting my blog with such a word and it’s definition?
In the early hours of Saturday the 26th of August 2017, Thames Valley Police were called to a collision on the M1 near Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. What they found on their arrival was utter carnage and total devastation.
I am not unfamiliar of such situations having been one of the first officers on the scene at a similar incident on the M56 in 2003. I was approaching the end of a night shift and was only there a short time before being released by motorway patrols and detailed to a road closure. However, the images of what I saw are still as clear in my head now as they were on that morning. The impact that such devastation can have on our emergency services is immense and in many ways, only now starting to be seen as an issue needing attention.
On the M1 the officers found a collision involving 2 HGV’s and a minibus. 8 people were killed.
The circumstances and facts surrounding this case are horrific. The driver of the first HGV was Ryszard Masierak. He was twice the drink drive limit but during the court case said this had nothing to do with the crash. Masierak said that he was sweating, felt weak and had a headache. He had tried to pull over onto the hard shoulder (of which there was miles and miles of it) but had been unable to do so. He therefore came to a complete stop in lane 1. He then claimed to have lost consciousness and had no recollection of the events.
The driver of the minibus was driven by Cyriac Joseph. He was conveying a number of Indian tourists from Nottingham to London. The truck driven by Masierak had been stopped for 12 minutes when Mr Joseph had come to a standstill behind it.
Meanwhile, also travelling along the M1 and driving the second HGV was David Wagstaff. He was engaged on a hands free telephone call. A call that had been underway for an hour. You read that right… 60 minutes.
Wagstaff did not see the stationary HGV. He did not see the stationary minibus held up behind it. Without any braking or course deviation he smashed into the minibus, at 56mph forcing it underneath the leading HGV. Mr Joseph and 7 of the passengers in his minibus were killed outright. Four other people were injured including a little girl who was orphaned by the tragedy.
pic credit; Thames Valley Police
Wagstaff did plead to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. The court case has been heard at Aylesbury Crown Court this week. Masierak has been found guilty of death by dangerous driving. Wagstaff has been cleared of the s1 offence but will face sentencing for the death by careless driving offence he had previously admitted to. Both men will appear before the court again on March 23rd where sentences will be imposed.
Lengthy prison sentences are inevitable.
The defence offered by Masierak was, in simple terms, pathetic, and the jury would appear to have agreed. Evidence showed him likely to have been twice the drink drive limit at the time of the collision and had been stationary in a live lane for 12 minutes. Depending on which news article you read the assertion is he was drinking in the cab at this time or had fell asleep. His side of this awful case is fairly straightforward and I will not expand on it further.
Wagstaff however is another matter and warrants further discussion. He had been engaged in a phone call for an hour with a fellow driver talking about football and Donald Trump. His call was hands free so, as we know, the UK legislation says this is OK. This is where the gobbledygook title comes into play. He is driving an articulated tractor unit and trailer at 56mph on the motorway, in the dark and engaged in a protracted telephone conversation. Without any loss of speed or deviation (much like the Kroker case) he rammed into the rear of the stationary vehicles. His defence counsel described him as being in a state of ‘inattentive blindness’.
Think about that for a moment… ‘inattentive blindness’.
In 2002 a study by TRL showed that reaction times by drivers making hand held and hands free calls were more than those who were driving at the drink drive limit. Yet, notwithstanding this knowledge, the law came into effect in 2003 and said hands free was ok. The public have become conditioned, by the legislation, to believe that hands free is safe. Let’s be quite clear. It is NOT.
Inattentive blindness seems to me to be an attempt to play down the state that Wagstaff was in. A use of a convenient and less impactive phrase than what it actually was…
It is quite clear to me that Wagstaff was distracted. I have campaigned around the dangers of mobile phone use by drivers for many years and especially livestreaming. It is an accepted fact that there is only so much cognitive load a person can take on. Imagine a sausage.. it’s completely full of meat. The meat is your brain dealing with driving (hand, eye, foot coordination), directional control, observations, speed and more. Now you add a mobile phone into the scenario.. a discussion about football, teams, managers, scores, table positions… add into that Donald Trump. This is more meat being forced into the sausage from one end. The net result is some meat is forced out of the other end… something really important… like your observations or reaction times.
The families have said they are disappointed with the verdict for Wagstaff. From my perspective I think the jury have made the right decision. He was not engaged in an illegal activity per-se by being on the phone. It’s a behaviour that 1000’s of drivers engage in on our roads every day so how could it be described as falling ‘far’ below the expected standards?
I have said for a long time that we need to move away from hands free use. I have said for a long time that businesses that have a mobile work force need to have in place a ‘non-use’ policy relating to mobile phones. Some companies, such as Shell UK, already have such a policy. Staff are not allowed to use mobile phones hands free or not at any time whilst driving.
This situation has to change. Until then such tragedies will continue to unfold on our roads and lives will be lost. Distracted driving kills. How much evidence do we need before we finally accept it?
Until then, utter gobbledygook phrases such as ‘inattentive blindness’ will continue to be voiced in courts in fairly pathetic attempts to give a softer and less impactive name to distracted driving.. and as we know.. distracted driving kills.
main image credit; BBC