Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Careless is driving a matter of life and death

The restaurant on the Moneyreagh Road a few miles outside Belfast was packed to the doors when we called for lunch on Tuesday.

I thought we had come early, but even at 12.30 nearly every table was taken for the special Christmas fayre and I was glad we had rung up to reserve a place. Typetalk has refined the service so much that making a booking by phone is just as easy for deaf people as it is for hearing customers.

The Auld House is situated on a hilly country road and the low sun at this time of year can make driving difficult. I was forced to brake very quickly when approaching the turn into La Mon Hotel when a big limousine, with the driver obviously blinded by the sun, drove across the main road right in front of me. The driver probably never even saw me and I was relieved at avoiding a potential collision.

I drive along this road quite frequently and have learned to keep my foot hovering over the brake at junctions like this.



Record



We deaf folk rely so much on our eyes that we are probably much more aware of surrounding traffic than hearing folk and our safety record is very good. But we need to be careful at this time of festive cheer and remember that just one drink can induce a false sense of good cheer and be enough to lower our reaction time.

Some time ago a lorry driver killed a mother of two young children in a horrific smash as he tried to read a text message at the wheel. The truck struck a teacher's car as she waited at traffic lights, killing her and injuring her mother and six others.

It emerged that the driver did not even start to slow down until after he had collided with the teacher's car. He now faces up to 14 years' jail after admitting death by dangerous driving.

Road safety groups are calling for tougher penalties for drivers who use their mobiles illegally.

'Talking on a mobile phone is horrendously dangerous', they say, "but texting is even more dangerous because you are taking your eyes off the road ? we hope the law comes down hard on anybody who has so little regard for their own lives and the lives of other people.'

An automatic £30 fine is the penalty for using a mobile while driving. This is soon to go up to £60, with the possibility of a prison sentence for repeated use, so we deaf people need to be very careful.



Temptation



Texting has revolutionised communication for us and, after the car and house keys, our mobiles have become our most indispensable companion.

The temptation to reach for it when we see or feel it vibrating is almost irresistible, but those few seconds with our eyes off the road could end in a dreadful accident.

I spoke to a senior policeman about this and he told me deaf people must also realise that sign language can be just as distracting and the police will not be lenient if they see a deaf driver signing to passengers and not keeping his or her eyes on the road.

"Everybody underestimates the speed at which accidents can happen and modern traffic conditions require the driver to exercise extreme discipline at all times," he said.

"Don't drink and drive, don't text and drive, and don't sign and drive. All three are equally diverting and potentially dangerous."

According to market research, thousands of car owners are expecting to find one of the new satellite navigation systems at the bottom of the tree on Christmas morning and this raises another big difficulty for deaf drivers.

These electronic maps speak directions as well as show the road to follow and even at around £300 are on everyone's wanted list. As we can't hear the instructions, will they turn out to be just another dangerous distraction?

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