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Crash text dummies: The dangers of getting from A 2 B

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.


Crash text dummies: The dangers of getting from A 2 B
by John Walsh

Remember a time when cars were only used to get you somewhere or get you laid? Well, the quaint notion that motor vehicles only be used for driving and sex is old school – territory for nostalgia buffs and Webdiarists.

In 2008, the car is much more than a mode of transport. It’s a multi-purpose space that functions as a lounge-room, café, chat room, telecommunications pod and centre of music appreciation. Mobile phones and MP3 players are becoming the modern scourge of road safety.

Back in the day you could drink as much alcohol as you wanted, get behind the wheel of a car, pick up the kids from school and drive home. Then in December, 1968 somebody decided that was bad form and a blood alcohol limit of 0.08 was introduced.

You could also have driven those same kids home unrestrained in the back seat. In 1972 somebody else thought that was a bad idea, too, and seat belts became compulsory.

Talking on the phone, texting and listening to digitally encoded music with headphones – all while you’re in control (well, in charge at least) of a car – is also a bad idea but at time of publication the practice is flourishing.

On one day alone last month in NSW 1200 people were caught using a mobile phone while they were driving. Senior Sergeant Peter Jenkins of the NSW Crash Investigation Unit told The Australian that mobile phones are now the number one suspect in crashes involving inattention.

Studies here and overseas indicate that you are four times more likely to have a car accident using a mobile phone – even hands-free.

When it comes to driving and listening to MP3 players the research is still sketchy but Michael Lemme from Monash University’s Accident Research Centre says there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it is dangerous.

“We strongly suspect that (wearing earphones) will present a safety challenge to drivers in particular situations, but there needs to be that evidence in place before legislative initiatives are considered,” he told The Age recently.

But the aural and oral fixations in the car don’t stop there. With the surge in coffee consumption in Australia, drivers are also drinking hot lattes and some time-poor motorists have even been spotted in morning peak hour eating cereal with a bowl and spoon.

If your love life’s in such a bad state that you need to text your friends about it on the way home or you’re so hungry that you are introducing crockery and cutlery into your vehicle, you may need to re-assess your whole situation..

Stop the car, unplug the hands-free kit, order in and, for everyone else’s sake, step away from the vehicle.


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 It took me about 5 minutes to realise that driving while using a mobile phone is a bad idea... Thankfully, it wasn't a car accident, not even close. - It came in the form of a $230+ fine. Yup!! F*#k!!!  Life's major lessons are learned by making errors and paying for it. Needless to say, my hard earned cash never went to the NSW money guzzling authority again. How is this different to the young lady applying her makeup, mascara, eyeliner, and lip stick/gloss while behind the wheel? Or using MP3 headphones? Or all other mod-cons available these days? John you make an excellent point and the issue does spark a nerve... I just wish the laws are fair.

Richard:  Perhaps, Suheil, it might be that you're brain's not engaged with talking when doing those other activities?  Well, most folks, anyway..

When will hands-free sets be made illegal?

I enjoyed reading this post. It grabbed me from the first paragraph and didn’t let me go till the end. Many people have commented on your tone being too casual, but I disagree. Numerous articles in Webdiary have the same feel and you wrote with your audience in mind, bravo.

After reading your piece I decided to check the RTA website for laws against hands-free cell phones here in Australia. I was surprised to discover that unless you are a Learner or Provisional driver (or rider), you are perfectly in the right to use a hands-free set while racing through Australia’s roads.

You quoted Michael Lemme from Monash University as saying that, “there needs to be that evidence in place before legislative initiatives are considered” in regards to I-Pod use. 

I’m curious to know what ‘evidence’ they hope to find before laws against hands-free mobile sets are implemented.  Even research from the University of Sydney featured way back in 2005 already pointed out that it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a hands-free set or the real deal, mobile phone use while driving is a serious threat that needs to be stopped. 

I feel your article could have carried more punch if you offered information or quoted members of organizations fighting for legislative action against the use of headphone devices while driving. Aside from that, well done. 

Two verbs

I spotted two verbs in the first sentence of 'para' three; aptly, they were 'drink' and 'drive'.

 Your use of irreverent humour is enviable and makes me wish I hadn't watered my comment piece down as much as I did. I do get the impression that our particular sense of humour might be a bit crass for Webdiary.

Nice text message pun in the title, although I almost missed it, and the allusion was a little too subtle for the headline to draw me in.

There is a noticeable absence of a linear and cohesive thread through this story. It reads a little like a string of vaguely related (though fairly hilarious) observations revolving loosely around the danger of mp3 players in cars.

The hyperlinks are very good though, and relevant too.

This is an issue that ought to be addressed legislatively (although I sure hope it never is: I've narrowly avoided a number of iPod related accidents myself), so I think this was an excellent choice of topic. A little more focus, sources and hyperlinks with specific relevance to the central theme would've been great.

Otherwise, good stuff.

Long time parsing

Luke Telford, oh, you poor innocent you.   It does not pay to bandy grammar with me.   I have a degree that covers the subject from the days when the subject was covered.

The first sentence of para 3 of this piece (to the extent it can be said to be a sentence - signified by a full stop at the end) does not contain a verb, it is a series of what ought to be subordinate clauses which contain words which if they stood alone in discrete sentences would be verbs.   Of itself, however, it does not contain a verb.

Ever heard of subject, object, verb?   It's the way we teach grammar.   It's one of the things I have to teach my debaters these days because the school syllabus doesn't.

Charmed to make your acquaintance and expand your knowledge. 

Richard:  And by the way, Malcom, "contain" normally contains two "n"'s, as it ends now ;)

Smartarse to Uncle Tom

Richard, I have always freely maintained that none of my keyboards can spell and I have never gotten used to proofreading on a screen.

The era of multitasking may kill us

Before I make my comment about the content of this piece, I have to say I find it fascinating how some people can repeatedly talk about the same topic (grammar), instead of commentating about the actual topic at hand.

Coming back to John’s piece, I find it quite interesting that in Australia, unlike in other countries such as Colombia, the law assumes that it is safer to drive while using a hands free than driving while smoking.

I personally think that both are dangerous. I often use my hands free whilst driving. I have had times where after hanging up the phone, I realise I had been driving without being actually aware of my actions as my mind had been occupied by the conversation, and I don’t think I’m alone here.

I agree with John, we should stop trying to multitask, but I’m afraid that is easier said than done.

Boredom is also a killer

I guess multi tasking, Larissa, has brought more drivers and their passengers to grief, particularly in suburban streets where there are lights to be stopped at, traffic banked up suddenly, and more drivers to avoid.

However, I suspect boredom and lethargy on long haul drives is a big problem once the city is left behind. Have you never started out on a long drive, even a short one of say 100 kilometres, then arrived and realized that somehow you had driven that distance and recalled nothing of the journey? I have many times and I just wonder where my mind, and eye was during that journey.  These days we observe the strict 2 hour rule and we change drivers regularly when we do the 600km trip to our farm.

With music on a CD I find I tend to stay more alert on long hauls. Mobile phones I think are a big issue but sound/music blaring should not necessarily in and of itself cause loss of attention. It may in fact do the opposite.

Many of the very worst of accidents on the highways and country roads are in fact due to high speed and falling asleep. A warm car on a cold chilly winter's day is for me a real no no. I find myself yawing right from the start. Better to be cold while driving than be found in a ditch stone cold dead.

Mobile phones are a 'road killer'

Hi John. Excellent writing, it’s creative, innovative, and works very well with the flow. However, like Heidi said, I don’t think this would be a good read for the public newspaper. It is sounding a bit casual, but as for Webdiary, it definitely works.

Your title is punchy, especially ‘A 2 B’, but I am sure I am not the only person who feels this way . I like the way you split it using the colon. It’s a good way to express the subject and a headline.

I was held by an accident once that was quite traumatizing. Turning around a corner, I stopped at the red lights, a car behind me couldn’t break In time, and ended up hitting the bumper of my car, which was quite a loud 'BANG'! The cause is the mobile phone. But obviously, such people won’t own up that they were on the phone, and at that incident, I was pointed at for being the one on the phone. I thought it was insanely ridiculous. This eventually got me into, not only a crash, but to a serious back injury due to the jerk from the hit.

I do seriously advise not to use even handsfree as well, as talking on the phone causes a person’s mind to swerve away from the most important thing, driving. Drivers do not realize that the vehicle can be a killer weapon when not managed properly.

A paragraph on your support for making it a serious civil offence for talking on the phone or eating a meal while driving would making the commentary complete as your commentary is actually driving towards this apparent conclusion.

Overall, I really think your article was very well written and constructed, and it is a big problem not only in Australia, but around the world.

Thanks for your commentary.

motorists are the new terrorists

Fantastic article, John. As a semi-sane Sydney motorist I am shocked, amazed, horrified, bemuzed and amused by the goings on inside the ever so humble automobile.

Just today I was oh so lucky as to stop at traffic lights only to have my ears pounded by the defening sound of someone's "fully sick sub-woofer". The noise shook the car so much that my rear vision mirror was shaking more than Michael J Fox.

The skim soy chai lattes swilling, cereal munching, lipstick applying, text message-ing, verbal diarrhoea mobile talking, i-pod listening, dvd watching, nav-man controlled, Australian idol wannabee singing, yelling at the kids in the backseat, smoking, drinking, canoodleing motorists that inhabit the mean streets of Sydney should really apply the brakes and catch public transport.

Im not sure if anyone else has noticed ... but cars are bloody dangerous. No, I'll re-phrase that. Motorists are bloody danderous!

Im always more than amused to watch people darting in and out of traffic, overtaking as many people as possible, racing against some unimaginable stopwatch... Only to find that by driving in a moderate manner, I usually end up beside them at the next set of lights. RELAX Sydney, you're not that important!

Just beautiful

Reuben Brand: "The skim soy chai lattes swilling, cereal munching, lipstick applying, text message-ing, verbal diarrhoea mobile talking, i-pod listening, dvd watching, nav-man controlled, Australian idol wannabee singing, yelling at the kids in the backseat, smoking, drinking, canoodleing motorists that inhabit the mean streets of Sydney should really apply the brakes and catch public transport."

Now that is just beautiful. They could not be described better. That is why I never go to Sydney, save about once in every three years, and never ever drive. Mind you Reuben, they're out there on the country roads too but a bit different.

Stubby holder, rubbish chucker, tail gater. light blazer, flying yapping dog owner, up ya finger jabber hoons are all too common. Then there is that truckie on the Newell who won't pass you but loves to sit on top of you till he gets bored then bores it up you till you take cover in the scrub to escape. Nothing like a little country lane to duck down till he's out of sight.

Then there's the aquaplaners on the Hume along Lake George - well it used be a lake - they are really slow learners. A month ago first rainy day in a span of time of some duration and there they are, four of them, up trees, upside down, nose first in ditches, facing south when they were headed north - nice touch on the insurance companies. Video by police showing the mess and all the while cars flying past above 100kph, giving the verge another drink. A month later, another five, up a tree, in the....well you know the rest.  Same place. When the Hume takes on board water at that point, you need a boat, not a merc. They never learn these guys. Trouble is, their passengers get killed.

Good road rule: Always assume every other motorist on the road is an idiot, because he probably is. Yes mortorists are dangerous. Agree totally.

No Malcom B Duncan, we won't mention that red I ran on NYE. Had I not thought you were going to launch into that incomprehensible poet again I would have noticed. But I have to agree you are a very safe driver as per my experience with you on the Hume. Remember  - even the hearse passed you?

Communication technology

Yeah - it is odd isn't it that we now have so many ways to communicate with maniacal efficiency but less and less reason to do so. The content of overheard mobile conversations is usually tragically banal.

By the way I believe that the Internet is what the Old Testament was referring to when it talked of the Tower of Babel as one of the moments that heralded the end of human civilisation. Everyone talking in different languages and no one able to comprehend the other.

Just kidding.


Constructive - not bloody likely

The first sentence in para 3 does not contain a verb.

I think I shall just make a blanket objection to the use of "you" when one means "one".

Argumentative not factual: that is, not a piece of reportage but a commentary.   Heavens save us from commentary.

Around here, it just gets the sheilas going.

Fellow student

Hi John.

I am in the Online Journalism class as well, so as you know, I am here to comment away on your piece.

I'll start from the top, I guess...

Your title is great! It definitely got my attention, and not just because I was seeking out fellow students titles. I like the play with the text jargon "A 2 B" nice touch.

I like the casual style of the piece. I am not sure this would get published in a public paper, but posted here on Webdiary, it works. I often prefer reading through things effortlessly and casually, rather than being inundated with facts and stats!!! The in my face kind of stuff. Your last paragraph did this as well. I like the directness of it to the audience, as if you are speaking to them. Not to mention, I laughed a little.

Your article was broken up nicely. No walls of text, making me not want to read it, but it could have used a subtitle or two.

The linked articles were relvevant, but did you get any other sources? Such as interviewing people, or otherwise? I think that coluld have helped towards your appeal. Also, I know that we had a limited amount of words to stay within, but more information of the sources or facts could have helped with credibility.

I thought your article was great, overall.

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