The Chief Executive of car technology company Bluesona, Mel Morrison, has welcomed the introduction of tougher action on mobile phone use while driving as an important step in improving safety.
Downpatrick-based Bluesona works with insurance companies to provide a system, LoopMatics, that tackles distraction driving caused by mobile phone calls.
“The changes to The Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2020 are vital,” said Mr Morrison. “They are a clear signal that mobile phone use while driving is the worst type of distraction for a motorist.”
Under the changes approved the fine for using a handheld mobile phone was increased from £60 to £200 and the number of penalty points increased to six. A second offence will lead to the loss of their licence.
Bluesona’s LoopMatics system tracks the driver’s on road behaviour as well as recording their mobile phone use. It is designed to encourage safer driving by providing feedback to the user on their journey and flagging the times when a mobile is used.
“The Statutory Rules introduced by Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, are an important step forward,” said Mr Morrison. “Hopefully they will indicate to all drivers that it is not legal, and not acceptable to use a mobile when behind the wheel.
“And I particularly welcome the fact that all parties backed Ms Mallon’s changes, and spoke so powerfully in the Assembly chamber.”
From 2017 Bluesona has focused on making driving safer, in partnership with insurance companies. Unlike many of the ‘black box’ style devices they developed LoopMatics uses a simple plug-in to track journeys, acceleration, heavy braking and if these coincide with using a mobile.
During the discussion on the changes to the Road Traffic Offenders Order Ms Mallon said that she had consulted with the Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee, Justice Minister, Naomi Long, and PSNI Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, and that all backed the increased penalties.
“The illegal use of a mobile phone while driving is a selfish disregard for the law,” the SDLP MLA said bringing forward her proposals in the chamber. “It poses a serious threat to not just the driver who made the selfish choice but to many other innocent road users. The consequences can be devastating.”
Mr Morrison said that he was conscious when developing LoopMatics it was clear there needed to be more than just a nudge to the way mobile phone use is thought about.
“There needs to be a change of attitude, and a change in behaviour,” he said. “It needs to be based on it becoming the norm to stop using phones when behind the wheel.
“And, I congratulate the Assembly parties and members on passing the changes with no opposition. Too often we forget the role of MLAs in introducing safety measures.”
Under the changes newly qualified drivers who commit the offence will also be banned on their first offence as a result of the increase in penalty points.
Chair of the Assembly Infrastructure Committee, Michelle McIlveen, said: “As we are all aware, the technical advancements in phones have made the device an indispensable addition to our lives.
“However, it is the urge to check messages and respond to the sound of a notification that makes them so dangerous whilst driving.”
The DUP member also said that the committee would support the planned review of mobile phone offences to be carried out in line with the English and Welsh Department for Transport review.
Sinn Féin’s Cathal Boylan reflected on the impact of fatal road accidents.
“It is often said that a single death on a road is one too many,” he said. “We must improve road safety in any way that we can.
“We all know how families and, indeed, communities are affected by a death. It is incumbent on us to try our best to introduce as many measures as possible.”
Ulster Unionist, Roy Beggs, said: “The use of mobile phones has become more and more common. Many people are almost addicted to them. They forget the risks that are involved in being distracted when driving, even by considering the use of such a phone.”
Andrew Muir of the Alliance Party echoed the seriousness of the issue.
“Fifty-six people died on our roads in Northern Ireland last year,” he said. “Nine in 10 road deaths and serious injuries are caused by human error. That is why we must come down hard on those being reckless with the safety of others.”
Mr Morrison said that safety was the ultimate aim of Bluesona and LoopMatics, through its ability to show drivers, in an easy to use interface the habits, especially in terms of mobile phone use that needs to change.
Bluesona is based in Downpatrick and has a centre in Letterkenny. They offer their LoopMatics software to customers through various insurance companies.
Find out more at bluesona.co.uk
Importance of Improved Digital Connectivity Cannot be Overstated
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has visited Killyleagh as hundreds of homes and businesses in the area go live with access to next generation access broadband speeds under Project Stratum.
Project Stratum represents a £150million investment by the UK government, allocated to the Department for the Economy as part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement, alongside £15million by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs with further investment by the contractor, Fibrus Networks Ltd.
Department for the Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “Killyleagh is the latest town to go live as a result of Project Stratum, the £165 million infrastructure project which will bring Next Generation Access broadband to over 76,000 premises across Northern Ireland. This investment in our broadband infrastructure is set to transform the broadband connectivity landscape here. Hyperfast NI, delivered by Fibrus Networks Ltd, have now completed work they began earlier in the year in the Strangford area, including towns such as Killyleagh, Killinchy and Newtownards. This announcement sees over 640 premises in the area, previously identified as being without quality coverage, with access to hyperfast broadband speeds. As a result people and businesses are already seeing the benefits of improved connectivity.
“The importance of improved digital connectivity cannot be overstated. It can mean better access to online services for businesses and members of the public alike. An improved online presence can help businesses to sell their goods, promote their services and in the case of our local tourism providers help them to attract visitors and people to the area.
“This is the latest announcement by Fibrus, with extensive work across South Down and other towns in Mid Ulster and the North Coast already completed and I look forward to tracking progress as more and more premises go live across Northern Ireland.”
Fibrus Networks’ Hyperfast NI Programme and Commercial Director, Shane Haslem added: “Providing rural communities like Killyleagh with proper connectivity opportunities and access to quality broadband is at the heart of what we do. For too long, rural and regional areas have gone without adequate broadband infrastructure, despite being a hub for local businesses, start-ups and support services.
“When the pandemic hit, we were urged to ‘Stay at Home’ and confined to working, learning and entertaining ourselves from home. This unsurprisingly increased the demand for online and digital usage, meaning broadband quickly became like any other utility. To modern homes and businesses, it is now as essential as your electricity and heating.
“We are delighted that Killyleagh and other parts of the Strangford area have now joined the Rural Revolution, as our full fibre network goes live. We will continue to address the imbalance in rural connectivity across Northern Ireland and we look forward to seeing more communities enjoying the benefits of our transformative full fibre network.”
Allstate NI Offers Cyber Safety Training for Older Adults
Allstate NI is offering free cyber safety training sessions to protect older consumers from online scams.
The interactive sessions, which cover everything from fraud and identity protection to email and telephone scams, will help those over 60 navigate the internet with confidence.
The community initiative comes after it was revealed that over £6 million was lost to scams in Northern Ireland in 2020.
The virtual sessions will cover general cybersecurity awareness, fraud, identity theft, and email and telephone scams and will equip attendees with the tools to protect their passwords and privacy settings.
Technologists at Allstate developed the initiative following the success of its Cyber Safety for Kids scheme, a training programme that has reached over 11,000 children globally since launching in Northern Ireland in 2018.
Like the award-winning kids programme, the training for older adults will be delivered across Northern Ireland, the U.S and India to protect as many people as possible.
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at Allstate Jeff Wright said:
“Cybercrime is on the rise and hackers are getting smarter. There is no doubt that all of us are at risk, however older members of society are a growing target for cybercriminals. That’s why we are reaching out to local communities and offering free, online training sessions to ensure more people have the knowledge and awareness to stop cybercrime in its tracks.”
Vice President and Deputy Chief Information Security Officer at Allstate NI Keith Lippert said:
“COVID-19 forced everyone online and more people are using the internet for tasks that require sharing sensitive information. In these sessions, Allstate cybersecurity professionals will talk about the most common scams and how to avoid falling victim to them. Individuals are encouraged to ask questions and get tips that will best protect them and their assets.”
Superintendent Gerard Pollock, Police Service of Northern Ireland said:
“I welcome any initiatives which advise and educate people on how they can avoid falling victim to scams and encourage anyone who has been a victim to report it to police on the non-emergency telephone number 101.”
Virtual sessions are available throughout the summer:
- Tuesday, July 27, 10-11 a.m. GMT
- Thursday, August 5, 12-1 p.m. GMT
- Tuesday August 24, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. GMT
For further advice and information relating to scams, visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni.