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Next generation of drivers will be smarter with their phones

PUBLISHED: 19:24 10 March 2019 | UPDATED: 19:36 10 March 2019

Master of road safety Olly Day prepares for another cheerful lesson on his Norfolk school rounds

Master of road safety Olly Day prepares for another cheerful lesson on his Norfolk school rounds

Archant

Nothing annoys Keith Skipper more than drivers who use their mobiles at the wheel. Despite being a non-driver he hopes the next generation of road users won't be so stupid

As one of Norfolk’s most experienced non-drivers – that’s more of a proud boast than a humble confession – I tend to steer clear of smug condemnation of scary behaviour on our increasingly-busy roads.

Even so, all those years of loyal service as passenger, pedestrian and public transport user have given me an ideal box-seat when it comes to weighing up a fair number of the careful, the sloppy and the downright demented.

My choice to stay away from the steering wheel altogether was influenced considerably by a succession of test examiners in the 1980s who felt it might be best if I left our highways to those who had some idea what they were intended for.

I can only assume that highly commendable brand of judgement did not apply to many who came before my decisive pit-stop or to countless drivers since with scant regard for the most basic tenets of road safety.

It beggars belief to see the continuing epidemic of mobile phone use at the wheel go largely unchallenged. Yes, there’s an occasional purge to prick a few consciences. Headline cases about hideous crashes caused by blatant texting, checking and chuntering while driving bring renewed pleas from police and gasps of disbelief from the public.

Yet it remains possible to stand at the side of any busy road in Norfolk, especially when holiday traffic mounts and attention wilts in the sun, and tot up a dozen or more flagrant transgressors in full cry within a few minutes. On occasional sorties beyond my native county as car or bus passenger, there’s plenty of scope for similar angry reactions.

Don’t tell me or any other public-spirited citizen to stop looking and counting and “get a life” or the supreme irony of that glib response being used in such a context will come into play to haunt certain people for the rest of their driving days.

I accept police resources are stretched and they have plenty of other demands on their time. But a major cull of these reprobates must do far more good than a flashing sign being moved around towns and villages as part of a county-wide bid to warn errant drivers.

We are way past the warning stage. If matters do not improve – and recent outings provided scant hope – I may try a late foray into national politics and make a pitch to become Secretary of State for Transport with special responsibility to curb mobile phone madness.

First offenders would be automatically banned from the wheel for a year but given bus or train passes to attend driver education and behaviour courses. A further offence would spell disqualification for life and regular visits to a suitably-darkened room to watch endless repeats of the most shameless episodes of Top Gear..

Car worship must have something to do with the way certain folk conduct themselves as soon as they are cocooned in a metal box with far too many gadgets and distractions for their own good – or anyone else’s. Driving sensibly hardly rates as a priority.

So how will our youngsters, the drivers of tomorrow on even busier roads, cope with obvious dangers and environmental concerns never highlighted in a torrent of glossy adverts? Seductive music, sleek models, smooth operators, sassy salesmen and swish surroundings – often including an open highway with no other vehicle in sight!

I know some feel uncomfortable about high-profile use of children in road safety campaigns, let alone as bonny pawns in the wonderful world of motoring magic. Probably in the same way a lot of grown-ups reacted recently when school pupils took the lead in protesting about widespread indifference to climate change

Surely it’s never too early to ask important questions about

serious subjects and expect some sensible answers. That’s one of the main reasons why we go to school in the first place, to prepare for so many complicated situations waiting in the big, harsh world beyond.

Norfolk should be proud of characters like home-grown entertainer and road safety enthusiast Olly Day. He’s been taking his serious message wrapped in magic and comedy into local schools since 1992.

He tells children: “Switch your brain on before switching your phone on!” Sadly, too many grown-ups should be sharing those desks to hear and digest such simple but valuable advice.

Still, Norfolk’s youngsters are learning what the road outside and the way ahead are really like. There’s hope around the corner!

SKIP’S ASIDE

As a nosey Norfolk investigator for more years than The Singing Postman missed elocution lessons, I know the value of seeking expert help in a difficult case … like Seeking The True Identity of Father Time.

I featured a delightful photo on this page a fortnight ago starring three characters enjoying a roadside seat and mardle at Toftwood in the early 1960s. It was sent to me by Rosemary Button of Watton.

Names of her father, Robert Girling and his neighbour, Eric Greenwood, were pencilled on the back. But the only clue to the identity of the third man, a striking figure with white hair and beard, was the intriguing label of Father Time.

Rosemary likened the scene to “a Norfolk example of Last of the Summer Wine”. Perhaps my role as a Norfolk Compo playing alongside Nora Batty (Kathy Staff) in the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime Mother Goose in the early 1980s, singled me out as a potential mystery solver.

Or it might have been a reputation for loitering in the past. Either way, progress was slow before a breakthrough call from Christine Hines of East Dereham. She revealed “Father Time” as Ted Wild – also known, predictably, as Ted Whiskers.

“We first met him in the early 1970s when he lived in the middle of three cottages at the end of Westfield Road in Toftwood. He used to stand by his garden gate and our children used to chat to him on the way to school.

“He later moved to a bungalow at Southend in Dereham. Ted always looked the same as in the photo you shared .. no younger, no older. I remember he used to travel to Cromer to buy crabs and bring them back to boil and sell around the local pubs.

“Ted had his own seat in the Millwright Arms – with his picture hanging proudly above!”

Many thanks, Christine, for that bouquet of precious memories in honour of Father Time.

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