9 Jul 1999 : Column 1151

House of Lords

Friday, 9th July 1999.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.

Road Traffic (Use of Mobile Telephones) Bill [H.L.]

11.5 a.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Before I begin the argument for the Bill I bring to the attention of the House the fact that I have just learnt from the noble Lord the Chief Whip that this is the last day on which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely will be with us as he is leaving to take up a position with a college. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him well.

I begin by declaring an interest. I have the great honour and privilege of being deputy president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, usually known as RoSPA, which takes a keen interest in the success of this measure, and on whose resources I have drawn substantially for evidence that it is needed. However, I must say that I drive quite frequently in this country and the evidence of my own eyes identifies the need for this measure.

Although the Bill seeks to make it a specific offence to use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving, I do not intend that the Bill should clog up the courts with offenders. I look upon this as overwhelmingly a preventive measure. After all we have seen the effect of seat-belt legislation--which, incidentally, was introduced through an amendment presented in this House--which has increased the use of seat-belts from a little over 50 per cent of drivers to almost universal usage. That occurred simply because the wearing of seat-belts became part of the law of the land. We are a law-abiding people and when a measure becomes law that has a significant effect.

If it becomes a specific offence to use hand-held mobile telephones while driving, I believe that few people will wish to be seen as pariahs on the road who are prepared to use a mobile telephone while everyone else is obeying the law. Already the vast majority of people are well aware of the common sense of not using a mobile telephone while driving one-handed on Britain's busy roads.

Sadly, I have to report that RoSPA has collected details from the courts of six deaths which are directly connected with the use of a mobile telephone while driving. Experts are quite sure that this has been a significant contributory cause of many other deaths and accidents which have resulted in injury. Since I introduced this Bill a few weeks ago in your Lordships' House I have received a number of poignant letters. I have never received such a heavy postbag

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expressing overwhelming support for a measure. I have had few letters expressing anxiety over the impact of the measure. As I say, there is overwhelming support for this measure.

As I indicated, I have received a number of poignant letters. A mother in Norfolk wrote to me about her motor cyclist son, who was seriously injured when a driver using a mobile telephone and travelling in the opposite direction swerved across the road and hit both her son and a police car. The young man's knee is never likely fully to recover. His future enjoyment of sport, of which he was an accomplished practitioner, is wrecked, and the quality of his life has been severely impaired.

The newspapers reported the tragic case of 79 year-old Arthur Smith from Lincolnshire, who was killed when a young businesswoman, busily arranging a dinner date on her mobile telephone, drove into his car at 70 miles an hour as she overtook another vehicle on a winding country road. This very morning on Radio Berkshire, the widow of a man who was killed in an accident in which the driver admitted that his concentration had been seriously affected because he had been using a mobile telephone made it explicit over the airwaves that every time she drives now and sees people using mobile telephones while driving she is filled with bitterness and a sense of outrage that people should be so careless. I am sure that we all recognise that feeling.

I am sure we all recognise too that, although we have lesser causes for anxiety, all of us experience tension when driving a car in today's difficult road conditions. We all resent people who take liberties with our road space or who endanger us in any way. We all know the importance of trying to keep calm while driving. What greater affront is their to one's sense of safety on the road than to see people making mistakes on the road because they are using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving?

I can give merely my own limited testimony. I spend a number of Mondays driving to Coventry. I drive along the motorway at a time when, obviously, business people have the week stretching out before them. I know the enormous temptation there is to ensure that everything is set up for the week--we are all fairly busy on Monday mornings--but the incidence of mobile phone use on the M1, particularly in the outside lane, is quite staggering. We should all recognise that the temptations are enormous. The pressures from offices upon people who are on the road as part of their business to indulge in this activity are quite enormous.

We should recognise that there is potential for an enormous growth of this danger. In Japan in 1997 there were 2,300 traffic accidents caused by the use of mobile phones. They resulted in 25 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries. Dubai has recently introduced on-the-spot fines for motorists caught using phones while driving. One in four people in the Emirates has a phone. Despite the fact that your Lordships may believe that ownership of mobile phones is well-nigh universal in this country at the present time, I must disillusion you. We have a relatively low use of mobile phones at the present time; only 13 per cent of the population use them. In Finland it is already 42 per cent; in Dubai,

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which I have mentioned, it is 25 per cent. Last week it was forecast that the growth in ownership of mobile phones is so rapid in this country that it will reach 50 per cent within the next three years. Everyone recognises that mobile phones are an enormous asset to people in all sorts of ways. They are not, however, an asset to a driver seeking to control a car.

Perhaps at this point I should make clear what the Bill does not do. It does not ban the carrying of a mobile phone in a car; it does not prevent the use of a hand-held mobile phone if the car is stationary; it most certainly does not prevent its use in an emergency; it does not even prevent the use of a phone while stuck in stationary traffic; and it does not prevent the use of the phone by a passenger. It restricts solely the use of a phone by a driver while the car is moving.

I am sure that many of your Lordships will have been concerned to see the way that drivers weave all over the road with a phone glued to their ear while you follow patiently behind, hoping that nothing too drastic will occur. In the past month, the Central Motorway Police Group decided that it would crack down on the use of mobile phones and carried out a purge of drivers using them on the M42, M6, M5, M69 and the M1. Their spokesman said:

    "We are aware that the use of the mobile phone while driving is becoming an increasingly significant factor in the cause of road traffic incidents. This is based on evidence obtained from both drivers themselves and witnesses to accidents". I quote the particular officer because I am concerned at the use of the word "becoming". We have not yet seen the full extent of the potential hazard. That is why we need legislation to nip this growing problem in the bud.

In that motorway crackdown, 1,000 drivers were pulled over for using mobile phones. There were also cases of passengers helping to steer the car while the driver took calls and rifled through his or her papers. I should hasten to add that no specific offence is committed by the use of these phones unless the police can establish that the driver was driving without due care and attention. Surely we need a measure to make this developing problem a specific offence.

Some of your Lordships may say that there are existing road traffic laws which cover the situation where a driver is not in full control of a vehicle, driving without due care and attention or even dangerously--and it is the case that a small number of prosecutions have taken place under those sections of the Road Traffic Act. But that is not enough. By adopting the offence named in my Bill, we will be sending a very clear and unambiguous message to drivers that driving and using the telephone while driving is unacceptable; that they cannot do both at once and driving must take precedence at all times. No phone call is worth anyone dying for.

The Highway Code has been strengthened in the past year. It states:

    "Never use a hand-held mobile phone or microphone when driving. Hands-free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road. It is safer not to use any telephone while you are driving--find a safe place to stop".

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    But the Highway Code is, of course, only advisory. It is good advice, but the situation is one which merits more than good advice.

A public opinion poll carried out by RoSPA showed that 84 per cent of people would like to see motorists banned from using hand-held phones while driving. The NOP Solutions poll revealed that a massive 92 per cent of people feel that it is unsafe for drivers to use such telephones.

The case is clear: there is an increasing problem of drivers putting themselves and others at risk. A measure which makes it quite clear that such behaviour is against the law will make our roads safer in these increasingly difficult times. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

11.19 a.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, on introducing this Bill on a topical subject and one that requires urgent examination, not least by the Government. I also thank the noble Lord for explaining the intentions and probable effects of the Bill.

No one should be surprised that I am taking part in this Second Reading debate. On the first day of Starred Questions in this Parliament, over two years ago, I asked a Question in this House on the subject of hand-held telephones being used by someone while driving a road vehicle. Several weeks later, I tabled another Question on the subject relating to drivers of buses and coaches.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was most courteous in her replies and maintained a correspondence with me for months afterwards, informing me as to what was being done within government on this subject. That continued until the noble Baroness moved to the Department of Health. I am glad that the Bill now provides the opportunity for this House to discuss the present situation. I hope that the Government have been able during the past two years to formulate a draft code of practice, as I suggested on 19th May 1997.

In raising the subject, I pointed out that there were good reasons for having a telephone in the car. For example, a woman who drives alone quite often at night would be well-advised to have one and may need to use it while driving rather than stopping at the side of the road--for example, if she thinks that she is being stalked or harassed by a following car. That could be the reason for wanting to make an emergency call. I am therefore glad to hear that the Bill will not prevent the emergency use of hand-held telephones while driving.

I have not been able to look up the 1988 Act referred to in the Bill, or other connected legislation, to see whether exceptions for emergency situations are in the parent legislation. However, I understand from the noble Lord's opening remarks that that must be the case. There is nothing in the Bill on the matter. The Bill largely refers to existing statutes. So the noble Lord has already

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answered the question that I had intended to put; namely, whether provisions for an emergency are already incorporated in the legislation to which the Bill refers.

I do not know whether the Government support the Bill. We shall no doubt have to wait for the reply from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on the Government Front Bench. Like the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I note that a considerable proportion of accidents are reported involving a driver using a mobile telephone. My own observations are that one sees a piece of careless driving and then sees that the driver is speaking into a hand-held telephone. That is taking a great risk. The driver's attention is being diverted to his telephone conversation instead of being on his driving and the other traffic on the road.

I support completely the principle behind the Bill. It will need government support if it is to go through Parliament at this stage of a Session. Nonetheless, it provides us with opportunities to discuss this very important question.

11.24 a.m.

Lord Jacobs: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for introducing the Bill. He is doing us all a great service. During this debate there may be discussion on areas that appear to concern the Bill but in fact have nothing to do with it; namely, studies are presently being undertaken to determine to what degree people's concentration is affected when using a mobile phone, whether hand-held or otherwise. A good deal of research has been put forward to suggest that mobile phones are altogether unsafe when driving. The Bill, however, deals with only one issue, and we should disregard that research for the present. The issue is purely whether it is better to use a hands-free phone than to use a hand-held phone.

One would think that the answer is pretty obvious. But, as many of us who drive in London are already aware, a considerable number of people "cut up" other drivers while holding a phone in one hand because they are not fully able to concentrate. The Bill would not be necessary if we were blessed with three hands, but unfortunately we have only two. As cars have gear levers and clutches, if the driver is holding a telephone in one hand and has the other on the steering wheel, and then begins to turn or has to slow down so that it is necessary to change gear, that person will, we hope, put the phone down on the seat in order to do so. But I assure noble Lords that on several occasions I have seen people take the remaining hand off the steering wheel and change gear with that hand. That clearly shows how unsafe it is.

Surveys have been done, and I have personally conducted a survey of a dozen or so people, merely asking their views on this subject. I can report 100 per cent success. Of the dozen or so people to whom I spoke, not one thought that a measure of this kind would be unreasonable. Indeed, several quoted terrible incidents of being put at some risk by drivers using a hand-held phone. The other, more important survey is the one conducted by RoSPA, which indicated

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84 per cent in favour of a ban. My inquiries have shown that it is quite unusual for a Private Member's Bill to have that degree of public support.

So the question arises: why are the Government unlikely to support the Bill? Before turning to that, perhaps I may mention an important letter that I received opposing the Bill. It came from the RAC foundation for motoring. It is likely that all noble Lords who are participating in this debate will have received the same letter. A careful reading of it shows that it does not even address the correct subject. It states that there is no need for a Bill to ban the use of mobile phones while driving a vehicle. The RAC is expert in this subject; I should have thought that a simple reading of the Bill would have indicated that we are seeking to ban only hand-held phones, not hands-free phones. There is a significant difference.

I therefore rang the RAC to ask its view on banning only hand-held phones. After a few minutes' thought, the spokesman said that he thought we should still be able to use hand-held phones. I asked to what purpose. The reply was, "To hold brief conversations". I did not entirely follow the logic of that. I am sure that when noble Lords make telephone calls in the car they are very short indeed. However, the problem is that people at the other end tend to continue the conversation. Frankly, from my observations, many conversations when driving continue for five, 10 or 15 minutes. Therefore, the idea that we can persuade people to use hand-held phones for only very brief conversations is not fully justified by experience.

I should like to draw attention to the Government's position. If the Government intend to support the Bill, noble Lords must disregard these remarks. If, on the other hand, they do not--and my earlier information was that they do not support the Bill--it is important to understand their position. I was in correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, Minister responsible for transport. Unfortunately, he is unable to be here today, but on 18th June he kindly wrote me an extensive letter. I shall read two parts of it:

    "We want to discourage the practice of using hand-held phones while driving from becoming widespread. That is why earlier this year we launched a campaign to remind drivers of the potential dangers of using mobile phones whilst driving. The campaign included national newspaper advertisements and the enclosed advisory leaflet. This is being distributed by road safety officers, the police, and to learner drivers through driving instructors and test centres. The mobile phone companies are sending similar leaflets to their customers". I happen to be involved with two mobile phone companies. I have not yet received my leaflet but no doubt it will arrive next week.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, added:

    "A ban on hand held mobile phones in cars would have clear implications for the motoring and mobile phone industries, which are of their own volition increasingly providing hands-free equipment as standard in vehicles. The burden of road traffic law is already quite substantial, and we do not wish to be over regulatory".

The leaflet that went with it was much clearer and easier to understand. It stated:

    "Never use a hand-held phone while driving. You are not in full control of your vehicle if you are holding a mobile phone while driving. Doing so will risk the safety of yourself, your passengers and other road users".

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    Finally, The Highway Code says:

    "Never use a hand held mobile phone or microphone when driving". The Government's position is that they do not want us to use a hand-held phone while driving. That is abundantly clear. Therefore, one must ask why they could possibly not want to support this simple, single measure.

My discussions with the Minister have shown that the Government's position is clear and simple to understand. The police are not in favour of the Bill, they do not want to see us bring in legislation to prevent people holding phones while driving. The police give two reasons: first, enforcement; secondly, something which I shall call "the sandwich issue". Enforcement relates to police resources. The police say, "We are overwhelmed with the amount of work we have to do already. If you bring in this measure, we will not have the resources to enable us to monitor it". That may be partly true from their point of view, but as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said earlier, the public will enforce the Bill. It is quite evident if you use a mobile phone, it is not something you can disguise. If you have a phone held to your ear, you cannot put something over your head so that no one can see it. Members of the public nearby will see the phone.

The position will be similar to what happens with bus lanes. We are all tempted once in a while to drive down a bus lane. There have been one or two recent cases involving that, but people do not drive in bus lanes, either because they want to obey the law or because they resent what will happen when other members of the public drive past them. I have seen it happen occasionally, people sound their horns and cut in on you. I believe that this offence will be greeted in the same way. If you see someone in front of you holding a mobile phone, you are likely to be irritated and sound your horn. I do not think people will risk that in public.

In Israel it has been made illegal to hold a hand-held phone while driving. For a few pounds everyone who drives and has a mobile phone--and virtually everyone in Israel has one--buys an adapter which enables them to use the phone hand-free. It has worked very well. They have the added incentive, if one be needed, that there are on-the-spot fines of £100 in the event of them using the phone while driving. The result is that they do not. Everyone knows that you have to plug your mobile phone into the adapter when you get into the car if you want to use it. Altogether, enforcement will not be the problem that the police fear.

I come to my final point; to what is known as "the sandwich issue". As I have difficulty in understanding it, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if they do not fully understand what I shall try to explain. The position appears to be that at the moment it is not a legal offence to hold a hand-held phone. It is equally not an offence to eat a sandwich when you are driving. If you are driving along the road with either in your hand and you are in proper control of your car, you cannot be prosecuted for either of those activities if you are not driving negligently or dangerously.

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The police say that if you make holding a hand-held phone illegal, those who drive negligently while eating a sandwich will put forward the defence that the holding and eating of the sandwich cannot have been a major factor because, if it were, it would be illegal to eat a sandwich while driving. Technically, there is a difference between holding a mobile phone and eating a sandwich. For most people, eating a sandwich tends to be momentary, but I do not advocate doing it while driving. If you take a bite and put the sandwich down, you do not chew all the time. However, as we know, a mobile phone conversation sometimes goes on for ever. Therefore, people driving with one hand while eating a sandwich do so momentarily and continue driving most of the time with two hands.

I am sure that the Government's position will be explained more clearly, but that is my understanding. In this case, the Government should reconsider the position. We do not have an idealistic government tinged with pragmatism; I believe that we have a pragmatic government tinged with idealism. That is a good combination. Can they not understand that in this case there is one simple issue? If a mobile phone can be used in one of two ways--either hands-free or by holding it in one's hand--there is effectively no difference in use, but it is absolutely clear to all of us that if the phone is not held in the hand while driving, the driver must be able to keep considerably better control of the car because he will have two hands free rather than one. Therefore, I strongly support the Bill and urge the Government and the Minister, who has just left the Chamber, to reconsider the position.

11.36 a.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his explanation of the Bill. I am sorry to say that I have little sympathy with it. I do not for one moment dispute the facts and figures he gave which have been repeated by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs. However, we are looking at the problem from the wrong end.

I should have started by saying that I have an interest to declare in that I am and have been for some years a Vice-President of RoSPA. Of course, I support their widest endeavours where road safety is concerned.

I accept that enforcement is a big problem. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said in reading out the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We are inundated with road legislation. We must look at the problem in a different way. Today's motor car isolates the driver because of in-car entertainment, telephones, comfort, air conditioning and so on. We must make people more aware when they are driving a car that they belong to the wider society outside and must therefore take greater responsibility. That is where I start.

A hand-held telephone is no worse than the person who spends time trying to find a radio station lower down on the console, or changing a cassette tape. I understand that there was a fairly serious accident in recent weeks where that was the case. I quarrel with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Davies--the noble

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Lord, Lord Jacobs, came close to echoing it--that The Highway Code was advisory. I am no lawyer, but that document is not merely advisory. The noble Lord quoted paragraph 127, which begins,

    "You MUST exercise". It goes on to refer to telephones and so forth. However, the introduction starts with the following statement:

    "Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements ... Such rules are identified by the use of the words MUST/MUST NOT".

It is quite clear that there is a legal requirement. I do not believe that there can be any argument about it. Therefore, we already have a law and we do not need another.

If nothing else, perhaps this debate highlights the growing concern, irritation and need for car drivers to accept a bigger share of responsibility to the wider public. I do not believe for one moment that the public will take enforcement into their own hands. I see the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, sitting across the Chamber. Three or four years ago he and I had long discussions about road rage. At that time we did not believe that it would escalate to today's level. People will not interfere with others on the road in case they are rammed or there is an element of road rage. I am quite sure that the noble Lord remembers the conversation.

Enforcement means personal acceptance of what is already the law and responsible behaviour, and that is what we must deal with. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, will get his Second Reading. I do not object to it. However, we are looking at the problem in too isolated a way. We must look at the much wider range of features that affects control of the motorcar and the behaviour of its driver.

11.43 a.m.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I am delighted that this Bill is receiving a Second Reading today, having been admirably introduced by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, who may be interested to know that I have been known to hand out copies of the DETR leaflet on the use of mobile phones to errant drivers. I also admit that I am somewhat circumspect in doing that. The Bill provides for a specific offence which, one hopes, may be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice and, say, a three-points endorsement on the offender's driving licence. That should concentrate the mind. In the long term, perhaps vehicle manufacturers will acknowledge the problem and build into their vehicles a device which prevents the use of a mobile phone by the driver of a vehicle unless its wheels are stationary. I feel sure that that could be easily achieved.

Notwithstanding the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, I have been on traffic patrol with police officers who regularly ask for legislation to prohibit the use of a mobile telephone in a moving vehicle. In December 1997 Auto Express reported that mobile phones could cause a car's ABS to fail and that warnings were being placed in car handbooks. Perhaps that problem has been overcome; I do not know. At the same time, Mercedes warned drivers not to use their cellular telephones unless they were compatible with the

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vehicle for certain technical reasons. However, use of a mobile phone is a physical operation, and it is on that that I shall concentrate.

A study conducted, I believe, by the TRRL indicated that motorists who use mobile phones while driving are as dangerous to other road users as drink-drivers. It also indicated that sober motorists who use mobile phones may have heated conversations that lead to a lack of control similar to that suffered by a driver who has been drinking. The study further concluded that hands-free phones are no less distracting for drivers and that dialling out is judged to be as dangerous as reading a map when behind the wheel.

Your Lordships will be aware of the Toronto study which concluded that the use of mobile phones, either hand-held or hands-free, can affect concentration for up to 10 minutes after completing a call. A driver can go a long way in that time and expose other drivers to potentially dangerous manoeuvres. Irrespective of the technical advances in phones, the distraction caused by the mental effort of conducting a conversation is still present.

To counter the argument of those who say that to use a phone is no worse than talking to a passenger, eating a sandwich or changing a radio station or cassette, these three actions can be started and stopped at any chosen safe time, while chatting on a phone to somebody who is not aware of traffic conditions will continue regardless of the circumstances.

As my noble friend said in introducing the Bill, in 1997 drivers in Japan who used mobile phones caused 2,297 accidents, killing 25 people and injuring more than 3,000. Nearly half of the phone-related accidents took place while drivers tried to answer their phones and, in most cases, their vehicles smashed into cars ahead. The Japanese National Police Agency has been one of the few police forces to analyse the frequency of mobile phone-related crashes. To reinforce the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, some time ago while I was on traffic patrol with the police, the driver of a box van was stopped on a motorway slip road for changing gear while using a mobile phone and, incidentally, for not wearing a seat belt.

I am indebted to the current edition of Driving Magazine, the bi-monthly magazine for driving instructors, which has a very detailed article on research into the relationship between mobile phone use and traffic accidents. I was not aware that most American states, with the exception of Minnesota and Oklahoma, do not include a specific place on their accident reports relating to phone use. Analysis of reporting system data for 1995 showed only 40 possible phone-related fatalities, 26 of which were in Oklahoma. That is not surprising in view of the fact that only two states report phone usage. I should like to know what the figures are now.

Violanti and Marshall in 1996 showed that drivers talking on the phone for more than 50 minutes per month were five times more likely to be involved in a crash. In 1997 Redelemeir and Tibshirani found that collision risk was between three and six times higher within 10 minutes of a phone call than when the phone

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was not in use. This excellent article continues with human factors, human tasks, engineering, safety concerns, education and other areas too numerous to mention on a Friday--which is such a shame. There are 16 scientific references to support their article. The mobile phone is here to stay, and the more motorists use it while in motion the greater the increase in phone-related crashes, which must be avoided. That is the intention of the Bill which I fully support. Legislation exists in other countries. Why not here?

I conclude by quoting from the current edition of The Highway Code, as did my noble friend. Paragraph 127 states, in bold type:

    "You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. Never use a hand held mobile phone or microphone when driving. Using hands free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road. It is far safer not to use any telephone while you are driving--find a safe place to stop first".

11.48 a.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his endeavour to make the roads a safer place. I, too, must declare an interest as the current President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In that role I have watched the issue developing as fears have grown over the way in which the car is, for many people, turning into a mobile office. That is acceptable if the car is parked safety, but we must be concerned if people try to conduct business and drive at the same time.

RoSPA has been running a successful campaign to persuade employers to manage their fleets of company cars and vans with safety in mind. It is known as managing occupational road risk. If employers ask employees to drive while conducting conversations on hand-held telephones, clearly they are not giving safety a priority. Employers are putting their businesses first and the lives of their employees and other road users second. Regardless of the outcome of today's debate--I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to the point that we are making--I would urge all organisations to make it part of their health and safety policies that employees should not make or receive calls while driving.

I am also President of RoSPA Advanced Drivers Association, known as RoADA. That role has given me a graphic insight into the shortcomings of Britain's motorists. It has made me aware of the need for people to continue to develop their driving skills in the years after they have passed their driving tests--and right throughout their driving careers. We can all benefit from extra driver training. But driving is about much more than that, it is also about judgment, hazard awareness and attitude. A motorist's mental approach to driving is as important, if not more so, than the ability to handle the car mechanically. Unnecessary distractions erode drivers' awareness, making them less likely to spot the child about to step off the kerb or the van driver about to open a door as they pass.

People who drive with a mobile phone clamped to their ear must believe they are good drivers, if they are convinced they can control a powerful vehicle safely on

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Britain's crowded roads with only one hand. That physical distraction is bad enough, but the actual telephone call itself can be even more distracting. It is far too easy to become sucked into the conversation and let the phone call take priority over your driving. If you are at the wheel of a car, your driving should have priority at all times. No telephone call is more important than a human life. And as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, mobile phones have been implicated in at least six deaths on Britain's roads and possibly more.

If we allow people to use hand-held mobile phones while they are driving, we are condoning bad driving. The law needs to state clearly that it is wrong to do so. One would only need to stand for a few moments on the busy street corners around this House to realise that the present law is not working. We all see drivers selfishly putting their own interests first and taking and making calls on mobiles, regardless of the consequences that practice may have on the safety of others.

Making it a specific offence to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving would make it clear to everyone that it is wrong to do so. There would be no grey areas and no excuses could be offered by motorists found guilty of this highly dangerous practice. Allowing that activity to continue is simply supporting further erosion of this country's driving standards.

The measures proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, are sensible and will make a positive contribution to the safety of everyone as they travel on Britain's busy roads.

11.53 a.m.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I commend the Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, gave a very good introduction. I really believe that the ability to have a telephone in a car is a huge advantage, as it gives a feeling of significant security to women.

I can understand the reluctance of the police to back the Bill, not only because of the enforcement and the sandwich issues mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, but because motorists can and do alert the emergency services with a mobile phone if they come across an accident.

I believe that great pressure should be alerted on the mobile phone providers and car phone installers to reduce the cost of the modifications needed to install hands-free sets. It is not a question of just a few pounds, as in the Israeli example cited by the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs. It is a significant amount of money. It would surely be a great advantage for the mobile phone providers and car manufacturers to provide hands-free sets for nominal cost, because they would get greater market penetration than the extraordinary level of 13 per cent mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. I would have thought that it was much higher.

I support the point made by my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever that cars should not become mobile phone booths, but I cannot believe that people keep on phoning. Surely somebody must say to them, "Don't you realise the cost of making a phone call to a mobile

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phone and the cost of making a mobile phone call are so expensive that it would be much better to say, 'Sorry, I am in my car and I will call you when I get back home'".

11.55 a.m.

Lord Annan: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for being late--I missed only two minutes of his speech--but I got caught in a series of traffic jams. I wish to address myself to the Government. I am entirely in favour of the noble Lord's Bill. It is splendid that he has brought it forward.

I was distressed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, give a description of his correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he did not want to bring in this sort of legislation because it could harm the finances of the phone industry. That seems to me to be a weak and despicable argument, if I may say so.

My second point concerns the question of the sandwich. Is a sandwich more or less dangerous than a mobile phone? Is it as dangerous to put a cassette in as it is to use a held-hand phone? I do not think that it is, because with a hand-held phone one is doing business, talking to someone and trying to get one's point across. That is very different to talking to a passenger in the next seat.

There is bound to be the usual opposition to the Bill from the motor car lobby. I would politely remind the Government that one of the most splendid displays of courageous statesmanship was shown by the then Barbara Castle when she introduced compulsory seat-belt legislation. That was very unpopular and it was denounced as a typical socialist regulatory measure. However, we all now accept that we should wear seat-belts. The police have put forward the argument that the Bill would be difficult to enforce, but they cannot catch everyone who does not wear seat-belts and so they cannot enforce fully that legislation. That is not an argument against the Bill.

I hope that the Government will have the courage, if not now then when they are willing to give parliamentary time, to introduce a Bill. They should remember what the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, did many years ago.

11.58 a.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, we all owe the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, thanks for introducing this subject, which has provoked or encouraged--I am not sure which is the right word--a series of interesting and useful speeches. I for one will read with great interest the extremely well researched speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I had difficulty in following it, because I am no technician, but I am sure that it contained some nuggets of gold that I could bear in mind for future reference.

I loathe phones, whether they are hand-held or not. The idea of being at someone else's beck and call wherever I am and in whatever circumstances is enough to drive me from the Liberal Democrat Party much further left, into the arms of those absurd people who

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do not like laws of any kind. On the other hand, I have often considered buying one for this reason. A mobile phone offers safety in emergencies if, as a woman, you are on your own in a car. As of now, I am still trying to balance my hatred against the advantages of having one. I am not sure yet which way I will decide.

Conversation in a car can be very distracting to the driver. When I have a passenger in my car, for about 90 per cent of the time I tend to tune out the conversation. If you are thinking about driving, you cannot participate in a conversation. Obviously if it is your boss on the other end of the telephone you cannot afford to give only half of your attention to what he or she is saying. Equally, if you are giving instructions you want to ensure that those instructions are being understood and obeyed.

Several people have talked about what they have witnessed with their own eyes. I believe the worst incident I have ever seen was when driving along the main road towards the Imperial War Museum. A transit van carrying several people, presumably on their way back from work, pulled out from my left. The driver turned to his right--that is, across the entire stream of traffic--with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand holding his mobile phone. No doubt he was telling someone that he was on his way, just as one overhears people in the Underground and on commuter trains telling their loved ones that they have just arrived at such-and-such a station, and that they will be with them soon. Through the whole of my married life, my husband never felt it necessary to tell me which station he had reached. Times change, and I understand that, but that incident was a very striking example of an utterly unsafe way of driving. No accident was caused on that occasion, but the potential for an accident was great.

One of the interesting points made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, concerned the potential for increasing the number of accidents because of the increasing use of mobile phone. We are still at the beginning of a practice which will become much more widespread as the years go by.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the cocoon in which we drive in our cars. That was followed up, though in a different sense, by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. However, I cannot accept the argument the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, went on to develop. He said that all we can do is to persuade drivers to behave better. I have in mind the drink-driving campaign. That has been one of the most successful campaigns of any that have been run in the area of road safety. I am sure most noble Lords can remember a time when, as a party was breaking up, people would say, "Oh, have another one for the road". No one says that now. We were encouraged to drink just as we left the party to get into our cars. No one would dream of doing that today. Indeed, if two people are going out as a couple in a car, they will decide before the evening begins which of them is driving home. I have to drive a good deal myself, and I can assure noble Lords that I take great care with my ingestion of liquor if I am going to have to drive afterwards.

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The drink-driving campaign is in part a campaign of hearts and minds, but it is backed up by police action; and from time to time during the year, severe police action. If you are over the limit you never know whether someone will pick you up on that. Both of those elements make the campaign effective. My response to the argument that drivers can be persuaded to use their mobile phones more intelligently, or not to use them at all, is that I do not think it will work well unless that persuasion is backed up by the force of the law and some enforcement--I am not saying constant enforcement--by the police.

I hope that the Government will at least consider the ideas put forward in this simple and straightforward Bill which was explained so clearly to us by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. No one can be in the slightest doubt as to the intent of his Bill. I hope that the Government will be able to give us a response which at least does not cut off the whole idea but rather takes it forward, even if the Government feel that they would be the more suitable body to bring forward such a measure, or perhaps that the Bill needs further consideration. Arguments such as that would be accepted by noble Lords. However, I hope that we will not have to hear a direct refusal of support.

12.6 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on introducing his Bill. There is no doubt that there is much support in the House for the principle of the Bill in that we are all against the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving.

I had a question to put to the noble Lord, but I believe he answered it in his opening remarks. What is the definition of "driving"? Would that term cover the use of a mobile phone while stationary, perhaps when stuck in a traffic jam. I should like to know the answer to that point, either from the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms, in his reply, or from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his closing speech.

I have a number of other questions with regard to the Bill. We all wish to make our roads safer. We are lucky that in this country we do have a good road safety record when we consider the huge growth in traffic over the past 50 years or so. We have the lowest number of deaths, or very nearly the lowest number of deaths, since statistics were first collected. We should be proud of that, but that does not mean that we should not try to improve further on that record.

I admit that I have a hands-free mobile phone in my car. The phone is what I would describe to my noble friend Lady O'Cathain as a proper hands-free telephone; namely, one of the most expensive types, rather than merely a kit which consists of a couple of ear-pieces and a microphone. I would say further, and in response to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that it is not only women who feel safer with a mobile phone in their car; it is men as well. If one is travelling late at night with one's family and one has a breakdown--fortunately that has not happened to me--

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there would be no doubt about the advantages of the mobile phone. For that reason, I do not believe that we should condemn mobile phones altogether. In any case, they are here to stay, whether one likes it or not.

I am interested in the figures and statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his opening remarks. I believe he said that six deaths had been precisely attributed to the use of mobile phones. I have not seen those statistics. I would be interested to know whether they are official statistics from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions or the TRRL. It appears to me that more work needs to be done on this matter. We need to find out exactly how many accidents are caused by the use of mobile phones, and how many are not.

It has already been said that there are a number of equally distracting activities that one can do while driving a car. Mention has already been made of several of them: changing a tape or a CD; smoking; eating a sandwich, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, referred; reading; or shaving with an electric razor. We see all those activities going on while we are driving on the road or walking on the pavement. Small children in the back of the car can also be extremely distracting. I disagree with those who say that eating a sandwich may be less dangerous than using a mobile phone. If a child runs out into the road in front of the car while the driver is eating a sandwich with only one hand on the steering wheel, it is just as dangerous as using a mobile phone at that time.

I turn briefly to The Highway Code. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to The Highway Code which states:

    "You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. Never use a hand held mobile phone", and so on. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the introduction of The Highway Code makes it very clear that when the words "must/must not" are used those rules are legal requirements and if one disobeys them one is committing a criminal offence. That seems clear enough to me.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, also referred to a campaign, I think he said by the Midlands motorway police. Presumably that campaign was on the basis of offences in The Highway Code. We should have more such campaigns. There should be more publicity as to the undesirability of using a mobile phone. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, I received with my mobile phone bill a note from the company telling me that I would be best advised not to use it in the car. However, I suspect that the Government may say that they also issue leaflets with their vehicle excise duty reminder telling people about this. Is any research undertaken into the number of people who read those slips which accompany the vehicle excise duty reminder? I suspect that 99.9 per cent of people put them straight into the waste paper basket unread. I may be wrong about that; I hope that I am.

There is no doubt in my mind that it is highly undesirable to use a mobile phone while driving. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said

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about the view of the police. I do not think that any speaker has stated the official view of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I should be interested to hear that view. If it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said, against the Bill, it is a consideration that we should take seriously. The noble Lord referred to the sandwich argument. There is no doubt that there is some merit in that argument.

We have had a good debate. Again I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on introducing the Bill.

12.12 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, we have had a useful and informative debate. Because of the time available I may not be able to reply to every point raised in the debate. If I fail to do so, I undertake, as I always do, to write to noble Lords to deal with their questions.

I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham on his commitment to road safety as demonstrated by his willingness to bring this Bill before the House today. I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue of mobile phones and driving so that we can consider the issues and the evidence in a calm and reasoned manner, and perhaps dispel some of the myths. Before turning to the particulars of the Bill, I can advise the House that we believe that it has no implications for the European Convention on Human Rights. I should also say that my noble friend Lord Whitty is attending an important ministerial meeting in Brussels today and cannot be here to reply to the debate.

While a large percentage of the population use mobile phones, they attract wildly different reactions. Some would say they are the curse of the 20th century--in particular on trains. Others regard them as indispensable. The reality is somewhere in between. They can be vital in the competitive world of commerce and very useful for social and emergency purposes. On the other hand, as we have all experienced, the inconsiderate user can make them annoying and intrusive.

Whatever people may think about them, mobile phones are here to stay. They can be of great assistance to drivers and especially vulnerable road users--the disabled, the elderly and women travelling alone--for their personal security and in the event of an accident; and I think we should welcome this aid to communication. My wife drives alone a great deal on the motorway between our home in Wiltshire and London. She had a mobile phone in her car before I had one myself. She remarks on the increased sense of security that it gives her.

I noted the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, who said that she hated the idea of being traced wherever she was, and being at the beck and call of callers. I gently point out to the noble Baroness that this argument is not persuasive to a Chief Whip!

If we want to restrict the use of mobile phones in cars, we must be clear about the risks they pose to car drivers and other road users in the event of an accident.

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A number of noble Lords mentioned research. My noble friend Lord Davies is quite right to be concerned about the safety implications of using mobile phones while driving. There has been a great deal of research carried out into this very issue over the past 25 years, most of which suggests that there is some cause for concern. However, we need to be very clear about the specific problems caused by mobile phones and their impact on accident risk before we consider enacting specific legislation against them. The conclusions of the research carried out to date are complex and do not allow us to say unequivocally that the use per se of mobile phones causes accidents. A full review of the body of research available was carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory on behalf of the department in November 1997 and the resulting report, The use of mobile phones while driving: a review, by A Stevens and D A O Paulo, is available from the House Library.

One of the things the review highlighted was that despite the numerous studies into the use of mobile phones, the size of many of them was small and limited in scope. Furthermore, the research studies had many different objectives. They used different measuring equipment, required different tasks and made different measurements. Studies have involved road and track environments in instrumented vehicles, laboratory equipment or driving simulators--like the RoSPA-funded research. Each approach has its merits, but that diversity has also made it more difficult to discern and reach a consensus about the safety concerns of driving and mobile phones as opposed to the distraction, and we are still not in a position to confirm a causal link between accidents and the use of mobile phones. Research may be able to identify mobile phones as a contributory factor in accidents, but the importance of that factor is still not completely clear.

The most recent pieces of research brought to our attention highlight the problem of the complexity of the research and the apparently contradictory results. Research undertaken by the Psychology Department of Aston University concluded that,

    "distractions while driving may interfere with individuals' ability to make potentially important risk judgments and may therefore compromise safety on the road." That is supported by a recent University of Toronto study which concluded that drivers talking on a mobile phone were four times as likely to have an accident as those not on the phone. Also we are aware of the review of research conducted by Texas University, referred to by my noble friend Lord Simon. It concluded that the evidence did not imply that mobile phones were themselves hazardous but that there was a suggestion of a possible relationship with crashes and that more study was necessary.

On the other hand, the RAC, perhaps not surprisingly, believes that mobile phones can in certain circumstances alleviate tension and can reduce the temptation of drivers to speed.

I do not propose to debate the nature and quality of any of this research. I cite the range of research as examples of the diversity of opinion.

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There would appear to be plenty of anecdotal information about the use of mobile phones. Some of the information has been mentioned in the debate, but this is mainly circumstantial. There have been about six high profile road accident fatalities associated with the use of mobile phones, but while any accident is regrettable, I should be cautious about concluding anything as complex as accident causation from reports in the press.

One of the main problems with the findings of the research--it has been touched on in the debate--is that there have been few specific studies on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving whereas there have been a great number of studies about the effect of hands-free equipment.

Studies suggest that the distraction effect of phones reduces as they are made easier to use--that is common sense--through more sophisticated hands-free equipment; for example, voice-operated call dialling. However, the distraction that is caused by the mental effort of a telephone conversation is still present, even with advanced aids. Brief casual conversations that take place under light traffic conditions are unlikely to have a discernible safety effect. More intense telephone conversations, which we have all experienced from time to time, have been shown to cause considerable distraction and it is thought that this may impact on safety. It is true that there is some evidence suggesting that phone conversations are more stressful than equivalent conversations with passengers, but comparison with the use of other in-vehicle equipment is difficult to ascertain.

So what is the best solution? I hope that your Lordships will agree that the problem is not a simple one, as today's debate has confirmed. However, we believe that the inappropriate use of mobile phones is a real risk to road safety. There is a temptation for car drivers to turn their cars into mobile offices. We do not object to the idea in principle, provided the drivers are responsible and pull over at an appropriate site to carry out a conversation or other office-based activity.

I believe that drivers in this country are, on the whole, responsible. They are required to demonstrate a high degree of competence in their driving test and there is no evidence to suggest that driving standards have been deteriorating. This country's road safety record is ever improving and is one of the best in Europe. If people are using mobile phones unsafely, we believe that we should first try to rectify this problem through education and publicity.

In order to educate the public about the dangers of mobile phones, we launched a campaign last year to remind drivers of the potential dangers of using mobile phones while driving. The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, mentioned that campaign. It included national newspaper advertisements and the publication of a leaflet that we have distributed to local authority road safety officers, the police and to learner drivers through driving instructors and test centres. Following discussions with the mobile phone companies, they sent similar leaflets to their customers.

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The message we are sending in this publicity is that it is unsafe to use a hand-held mobile phone when driving. Even receiving a call from a hands-free phone can cause a dangerous distraction. It is safer to switch the phone off, relying on divert or a message service, or to let a passenger make or take calls. Essential calls taken with a hands-free phone should be kept brief, including those by the emergency services, taxi drivers and couriers. Employers should not expect their staff to use a phone while driving.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned the code of practice. We have also strengthened the advice in the latest edition of The Highway Code, which was published in February. It now states:

    "You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. Never use a hand held mobile phone or microphone when driving. Using hands free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road. It is far safer not to use any telephone while you are driving--find a safe place to stop first". The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, asked about the exact legal effects of that rule. I shall write to him about the matter as it involves a complex legal point. We shall continue to review the need to educate and train the public in using mobile phones in vehicles, especially in the light of new research findings, or--as can be expected--in the light of new technological advances.

My noble friend has, with this Bill, suggested that the next logical step is to introduce specific legislation to criminalise the use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving. I have heard the arguments that we should penalise drivers who fail to heed the messages that we send and who put the safety of themselves and the safety of others at risk through improper and unsafe use of their mobile phones.

I agree that the police should have the power to penalise those people who ignore the safety risks of using mobile phones--hand-held or hands-free--and who drive without proper control of their vehicle as a result. However, the police have powers available to them under existing legislation. Possible offences and the penalties available upon conviction include: failing to have proper control of the vehicle, which has a maximum fine of £2,500; and careless and inconsiderate driving, which has a maximum fine of £2,500, three to nine penalty points and discretionary disqualification. Even the offence of dangerous driving can be used if using a mobile phone causes such driver behaviour. It carries a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a minimum one-year disqualification and extended retest.

We know that offenders are being prosecuted by the police under these powers or being offered fixed penalty tickets. We expect the police to continue doing that, just as they would prosecute any offence in which drivers are not in control of their vehicles. The police have available to them--and use--the existing powers to prosecute not just people who drive unsafely while using hand-held mobile phones, but for any sort of activity that causes distraction and results in drivers not having proper control of their vehicles. This can include tuning radios, eating or arguing with passengers--the sorts of distractions that are mentioned in The Highway Code--or other types of distraction. Research cannot tell us the

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level at which any of these or similar activities causes enough distraction to cause an accident, and that is why it is better to have a blanket power to tackle all of them, rather than singling out one type of activity for special legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, asked about the reaction of the Association of Chief Police Officers. According to its brief, which I will send to the noble Lord, ACPO considers the existing legislation to be sufficient to deal with cases that allege driving offences arising from the use of a mobile telephone.

The police believe that specific legislation for mobile phones could weaken their ability to prosecute similar offences such as eating while driving--or what may come to be known in legal circles as the "Jacobs sandwich" defence. This is a matter of how well the legislation is framed, but I imagine that, if specific offences are created, there must be a risk, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, pointed out, that the absence of a specific offence for another dangerous activity could be used as a defence, or at least could downgrade the seriousness of that offence, regardless of the safety and accident risk. I am sure that your Lordships have read the story of the person who was prosecuted and charged with dangerous driving for driving at more than 80 miles per hour while reading a newspaper. I believe that he overtook a police car, which I thought was a little careless in the circumstances. He was fined and banned from driving for two years. We must not risk watering down the powers available to deal with offences such as this.

We believe that the existing powers are adequate at this stage--and so do the police. Our campaign about the dangers of using hand-held phones must be given a chance to persuade drivers about the proper use of mobile phones. Although we do not support this Bill, road safety will continue to be one of our highest priorities. We have not closed our minds to the option of further legislation, but, as I have said, precise drafting may prove difficult. If drivers fail to take notice of the dangers of using mobile phones in cars and fail to behave responsibly--as all drivers are required to do--we shall certainly review the case for specific legislation.

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