Speech analysing software to prevent drink driving?

According to an article in the Daily Mail, German researchers have created a library with speech patterns that will help predict whether a motorist is drunk and over the prescribed limit not by listening for vocal cues. According to research, alcohol contributes to 40 per cent of the road deaths around the world and the makers of the software argue that, if successful, it can prevent drivers from driving and prevent accidents.

Between 2007-2009 a database known as the ‘Alcohol Language Corpus’ was created by recording conversations of people with high levels of alcohol intake in a stationary car.

Presently, the database contains conversations of 162 German men and women. Computer scientists at Queens College and Columbia University have created an algorithm which will help in detecting whether or not the person driving is drunk by analysing the slurring speech patterns. Other indicators for drunken speech include stammering, stuttering and rise in the pitch of the voice.

Coupled with locks and immobilisers, this software will help in reducing road accidents by ensuring drink drivers are not able to drive the vehicle by preventing the car from getting started.

Impressive science or flawed?

Will this lead to greater convictions in the magistrates court for drink driving offences?…no, not yet anyway.

The major flaw, at this stage, appears to be that the algorithm accurate three quarters of time. According to Professor Andrew Rosenberg, of Queens College New York, this means that this will incorrectly brand one in three drivers as drunk.

That means, you want to go and drive your car, one in three times we’re going to say you’re drunk. That’s bad for a product,’ Professor Andrew Rosenberg, of Queens College New York (CUNY) said.

More languages are aimed to be added into the database so that more researchers can benefit from it and use it for their own research.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2860630/Forget-breathalysers-VOICE-stop-drink-driving-Software-detects-slurring-speech-embedded-cars-immobilise-them.html#ixzz3LHmmwWb

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New limits for drink-driving in scotland?

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s plan to reduce the alcohol limit from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood has been backed by MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee. More than 3000 people have been arrested for drinking and driving in this year till now. In light of the awareness campaign in next month, the police caution that there would be ‘no safe limit’ for drivers. After hearing from Mr MacAskill and senior police officers, the Justice Committee agrees that the changes should be brought forth. The new limit is expected to come into force from 5th December as the proposal will be voted on by the full chamber at the Scottish Parliament.

According to Ch Supt Iain Murray, throughout the year drink-driving affects families and communities and not just on Christmas. He says that an extra of 35 drivers can be anticipated to lose their licence during the festive time once the new limits kick in. He welcomes the changes and warns the drivers not to risk their lives as they will still be three times more likely to die in a collision than without any alcohol at all.


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Drink driving ads & campaigns

In the last 50 years, drinking and driving commercials have undergone a drastic change. Initially advertisements were gory images unlike modern day drink-driving ads. The UK saw its first drink driving ad on 7th November 1964 which now seems to be a polite approach compared to the new age shock tactic approach. The ad politely reminded people of the likelihood of an accident after four single whiskies.

For half a century young men have been at the receiving end of such advertisements allowing people to classify these ads as ‘sexist’.

Professor of social marketing at Stirling University and the Open University, Gerard Hastings says that where initially drinking and driving was considered a social norm for the pub-going regulars, effective marketing has helped in changing public attitudes and habits.

Although it was a criminal offence to drink and drive it 1964, there were no legal limit set at that time and no way to ascertain if someone was fit for driving or not. A study in US ‘the Grand Rapids Effects Revisted: Accidents, Alcohol and Risk’, found that the chances of an accident increases in most cases where the alcohol content is 80mg in 100 ml of blood. As a result the UK introduced drink-drive limits and introduced the legal maximum blood alcohol limit through the 1967 Road Safety Act along with introducing the breathalyser test. The introduction saw a reduction in the road fatalities caused due to drink driving from over 22 per cent to 15 per cent.

Despite the introduction of the 1967 Act between 1969-1975, alcohol related crashes increased to more than 35 per cent. Prosecuting drink driving as a criminal offence in magistrates court and the introduction of breathalyser seemed to be having on deterrent effect for those who viewed it as merely a ‘naughty behaviour’ and brought about the era of modern anti drink ads. The first drinking and driving advertisement appeared in 1976 depicting a woman being stretched on an ambulance as a result of a drink-drive accident.

Research had indicated at that time that people did not fully understand the consequences of drink-driving and 1979 saw the total number of deaths related to drinking and driving reach 1640.

These ads underwent further changes. Josh Bullmore, planning director at Leo Burnett Group and co-author of the 2012 report ‘Department for Transport’, says the ads initially focussed on the individual and impacts faced by him in terms of his job, insurance and losing of one’s licence. The end of decade brought about a change. Instead of appealing to the driver’s self interest, the ads started highlighting society’s disapproval. Instead of being rational the ads became emotional in nature. However the early 1990s saw another significant turn of events with the culture of ‘binge drinking’ according to Bullmore who pointed out that a culture of intoxication came about at that time. Although people agreed that drinking and driving was socially unacceptable they associated it with people who had more than eight pints whereas their own behaviour of driving after a few pints seemed fine. Focusing on immediate consequences ads were then made condemning the ‘second pint’.

2012 saw 230 deaths due to drink driving as opposed to the high number of 1640 deaths in 1979. Road safety campaigns and the increasing number of strict laws have helped in the reduction in the number of deaths. Even lawyers who specialise in drink driving related offending would accept this correlation, despite seeing the inevitable seasonal hike in such offences during the Christmas period. Indeed over the past 50 years society has undergone a change but still there remain a few who don’t concern themselves with advertisements about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29894885

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Is female drink driving on the rise?

Two interesting articles in the Guardian raise the issue of an increase in the number of women involved in drink driving, based on new statistics.

Road safety campaigners are targeting female motorists this Christmas. According to an AA study it was seen that the fall in the number of men who failed the breath test after an accident was 17.6 per cent during 2010-2013 as opposed to a 5.9 per cent fall in women failing the test.

According to a study by the Social Research Associates (SRA), over the past 15 years the percentage of women convicted for drink driving have increased from 9 percent in 1998 to 17 percent in 2012.

The research also indicates that one in six female drivers feel that they have driven over the drinking and driving limit in the past one year and the number of women being admitted to NHS hospitals in England due to alcohol related health problems has increased from 200,000 admissions in 2002 to 437,000 in 2010.

Kris Beuret, director of SRA and co-author of the report feels the increase in women drinking reflects the changing role of women in society. Now, many more women are economically equal to men in addition to becoming socially independent and professionally employed as compared to before with a greater acceptability of women drinking on par with men. Worrying this also means more women are bring convicted in the magistrates court for drink driving related offences and being banned from driving.

Recent statistics highlight that 53 percent of women who drank alcohol in the past week had drunk more than the recommended amount per day and about 24 percent drank twice as more. According to Moira Plant, Professor of Alcohol Studies at the University of the West of England, previously getting drunk was not something a woman would boast about but with the onset of the ‘ladette culture’ in the 90’s, this is something that is changed for women of all age groups. Female drinking statistics saw an increase at that time. According to Plant, as alcohol prices fell people drank more and its availability in supermarkets made it easier to purchase and the best way to deter people from drinking and driving is by random checks and not just during Christmas.

According to Beuret’s research, among those women who were breath-tested after an accident, women above the age of 40 were more likely to have a high alcohol level. Sheffield resident Rocca, believes that these drinking and driving statistics are indicative of an unseen drinking problem. Beuret also points out that mostly women are not aware about how much they can drink for a safe drive. Thus the figure of one out of six women admitting their driving over the limit could be higher. There however cannot be an official guidance on the amount an average man or woman can drink because different factors like weight, sex, when you last ate, stress levels influence the amount of alcohol that should be consumed.

Statistics also reveal that women in managerial and professional positions drink more units of alcohol than the average female and more frequently during the week.

The UK saw in 2009 female convictions for drinking and driving peaking up to 12, 663 compared to 193 in 1966. In 2011 there were 9380 convictions for the same. However Beuret feels that the decline in figures need not necessarily be attributable to the reduction in driving and driving in women but might be due to the fact that they are not caught. According to her women need to be told on how judgments are impaired due to alcohol and that advertisements should start targeting women drivers instead of male ones.

Mel Hurd, 34, an administrator at a transport company, had received a 17-month driving ban and a £450 fine and was asked to attend a £150 drink- driving rehabilitation course after having being convicted for drink-driving. After narrating her incident Mel mentioned that she had decided not to indulge in drinking and driving again as it was not worth it.

A spokesman from the Government’s THINK! drink-drive campaign confirms that men aged between 17-29 continue to be the core target audience and that men account for two-thirds of accidents caused due to drinking and driving. However this year their target is also focussed on women to ensure that driving with excess alcohol remains socially unacceptable The SRA research also suggested that over the age of 30, women were more likely to be over the prescribed limit of drinking and driving than men. When questioned a variety of reasons came up including unexpected calls from teenage children who needed to be picked up to not wanting to use public transport late at night.

50 years ago saw the first drink driving ad in which men were targeted as the one’s responsible for any causalities and women were told to ensure that men don’t drive after drinking. However, THINK has released new campaigns to register with both men and women. Though the number of woman drivers has increased from 9.2 million to 16.3 million between 1995 and 2010, men still account for 83 per cent of the drink-drive convictions. Edmund King, AA President however feels that it is important to highlight that with reference to women drivers there has been a delayed improvement rate in the recent years and in some age groups signs of regression have been seen. He feels this could be due to the fact that women mostly become the designated drivers when their partners announce they are above the drinking and driving limit.

In light of the Christmas and New Year season, the police are preparing for the annual drink-drive campaign. Controversially, according to a spokeswoman for Dorset police, names of those who are charged with drink driving will be released to the media as had been done last year in the hope it would “spread the message of not drinking and driving”.

Criminal Barrister’s view:

Whilst it is recognised that there is pressing need for deterring drink driving offending, and statistics show that effect campaigning does have an impact on numbers, it is questionable as to whether “naming and shaming” has the same effect. The majority of drink driving offenders are not habitual or repeat offenders and in any event almost always are banned from driving, or at worse sent to prison. As with other similar initiatives such as “naming and shaming” ASBO’s its likely that this will humiliate rather than deter. Precious police resources are always better spent on educating the public as these studies have shown.

Source:http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/08/women-drink-drivers-targeted-alcohol-campaign and

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Decriminalisation of tv licence fee ?

Leading criminal law barrister, David Perry QC  has been appointed by the Government to lead the review of whether non-payment of the BBC licence fee should be decriminalised. Appointed by the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, Perry was worked in various high profile cases including the prosecution of Abu Hamza. He has also advised the Crown Prosecution Service, on the potential to bring criminal proceedings over the cash for honours scandal.

The Culture Secretary’s intention to review the £145.50 licence fee system itself was revealed when he published a written ministerial statement announcing Perry’s appointment and the terms of the review.
Perry will consider whether non-payment should continue to be a criminal offence. Further, whether the sanctions for contravening the offence are appropriate and proportionate.

According to BBC, if TV licence fee evasion is de-criminalised, it would cost them £200 million pounds per year, and would potentially lead to the shutting down of subsidiary channels like BBC4, CBBC and CBeebies.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/oct/21/bbc-licence-fee-david-perry-sajid-javid

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New measures to tackle benefit fraud

dwplogoThe government is undertaking steps apparently in a drive to curb benefit fraud. A £50 “civil penalty” will apparently be imposed on anyone who gives any sort gives any false information while claiming benefits. Further a fine of up to five thousand pounds can be imposed without going to the court. A considerable involved in tackling benefit frauds. The cost of the new advertising campaigns alone cost about £1 million pounds, with a further £308millin for 2015 benefit fraud initiatives.

Some have queried the cost-benefit-analysis when considering £1.1 billion pounds is the cost of benefit fraud;

  • £1.6 billion pounds was underpaid to legitimate benefit claimants due to mistakes of either an official or the claimant himself.
  • £2.4 billion pounds was overpaid to claimants.
  • £0.8 billion was attributable to official error and 1.6 billion to the claimants’ error.
  • £2.1billion pound is the cost of undetected general insurance claims fraud.

In the year 2012-13, 85-89 year olds through their pension schemes fraudulently claimed about 20 million pounds. The Department of Work and Pension plan to invest about 308 million pounds to tackle frauds up to March 2015.

According to the HMRC, £35 billion pounds is the difference between the tax that should have been paid if the tax system worked as parliament and the tax that was actually paid. This figure has risen by £1 billion in the last year. However, according to tax research in the UK the true figure is close to £119 billion pounds.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/society/shortcuts/2014/oct/21/-sp-benefit-fraud-in-facts-and-figures

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Serious fraud office demands blockbuster funding to fight fraud

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which investigates and prosecutes high-profile cases of fraud, has asked for an additional £26.5 million from the government to aid the funding of complex inquiries including financial benchmark manipulations and high profile corruption cases in the corporate sector and has surpassed last year’s extra of injection of £24 million pounds. This would represent an increase of 75% of its budget for 2015 it is reported in the Telegraph.

A SFO spokesman, says the extra request for funds in the current financial year includes a £4.5 million pound payment to the property baron brothers Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, in respect of investigation which collapsed and a settlement for £300 million pounds claim with extra legal costs yet to be announced.

Other cases cited are the ongoing investigations into manipulations of Libor interest rates, Barclays’ £8 billion recapitalisation in 2008 and bribery and corruption allegations linked to Rolls Royce divisions, which have proven the biggest and expensive cases eating into the SFO budget.

The SFO has just instructed its lead criminal barristers on the case of the alleged rigging of the 5.3 trillion dollars a day in the foreign-exchange market, selecting Andrew Baillie QC and Shane Collery.

David Green, the head of the SFO states that incremental increases in business crime and other white collar crime, particularly in London, justified the need for a “blockbuster funding”. SFO’s cites it “success stories” as the first conviction for the fraud related offences connected to Libor against which an estimated $450 trillion of financial contracts are pegged.

The practice of “blockbuster funding”, whereby the SFO can secure extra funds for an investigation if it is predicted that the total cost to be incurred will be more than ten percent of its annual budget, were scrapped by Green’s predecessor, Richard Alderman. However, his successor, has reinstated the practice. According to Green, blockbuster funding is a sensible provision which gets the job done.

There are however speculations and concerns about merging the SFO to the National Crime Agency, or a wider crime fighting agency under a broader framework. Green emphasised that it was an important time for the SFO and such an action would damage the agency’s ability to tackle high-level fraud as an independent agency. The plans are currently being mooted by Home Secretary Theresa May.

Labour’s shadow attorney-general, Emily Thornberry is of the view that if the SFO is having difficulty in financing the investigations in hand with the existing funds, then its capacity to take on new investigations will be seriously impaired. She urges ministers to look into the SFO’s funding arrangements. She insisted on the examination of the SFO’s funding by the government and the impact on business crime, white collar crime and fraud if the SFO remains a state of perpetual bankruptcy.

Source: http://www.euronews.com/business-newswires/2754418-uk-fraud-prosecutor-seeks-more-cash-for-big-cases/ and http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d172db9a-5a05-11e4-be8600144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3HL5KlIrv

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New test for taxi license applicants in West Lindsey

West Lindsey District Council has mooted plans for a taxi driving test for new applicants obtaining a taxi license, which will require them to shell out £120, according to an article in the The Market Rasen Mail. The test is aimed at improving boost safety norms and regulations whilst minimizing road traffic accidents.

Presently the taxi license applicants are required to meet the following criterion:-

  • Police clearance checks, and

  • A local ‘knowledge’ test, which does not include advanced driver training.

The District Council has agreed to investigate and evaluate how tests run by Russell Morgan of the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership ensure increased road safety. Mr. Morgan informed the Licensing and Regulatory Committee that when Lincoln City introduced this test two years, no taxi driver has been involved in accidents or received any penalty points on their license. He suggests that this test should be adopted at the national level.

The test comprehensively covers matters including:-

  • Road risk management,

  • Rules addressing corporate manslaughter,

  • Improved customer service,

  • Mandatory regular vehicle checks,

  • Hazard recognition and

  • Eco-driving.

Although this new step has been welcomed by most councilors, they have for further investigation into the safety claims being made with respect to this test.

Coun Owen Brierley stressed that the extra test was a “no brainer” if it implies that younger and inexperienced taxi drivers drive better. However concerns have also been raised with respect to the financial viability of the proposed test as Licensing Team Leader Phil Hinch feels that £120 would be a “burden” for new drivers.

Source: http://www.marketrasenmail.co.uk/news/business/business-news/taxi-council-mulls-120-training-test-1-6334013

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Motoring and Road traffic law update 13-10-2014

A 93 year old tradition done away with: Tax discs to be made available online for motorists- but will it work?

Motoring groups and motorists have complained that scrapping a century of existing motoring law by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing agency (DVLA) to introduce online tax discs has caused major disruption for motorists, it is reported in the Daily Telegraph.

The system of displaying vehicle excise duty (VED) disc on the vehicle owner’s screen has now been done away with. The VED can now be renewed either online or at Post Office branches. The Government claims that making the system electronic will allow the DVLA to save around £7 million a year.

The inevitable heavy rush of online applicants to obtain the online tax discs caused the site to crash site as it appeared that the online agency was not prepared to deal with the rush it experienced on the very first day.

The online message being received by the motorists on behalf of the DVLA was: “We are currently experiencing high volumes of traffic to our online vehicle tax service please keep trying. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Frustrated people trying to access the website vented out their angst through social media and expressed their frustration on Twitter.

The decision of the DVLA to make the system apparently more transparent and accessible through the internet led to major chaos as, it is reported, that as many as 6,000 applicants tried to access their web-site forcing the registration agency to shut down that very night. The law stipulates a £1000 fine for motorists caught driving without their tax discs.

Confusion has arisen on how this new system works as the old system has been in place for more than 9 decades now. Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “We’ve had a number of our members coming on to us say that the DVLA car-tax site has crashed. It’s a bit ironic in this digital age that the site goes down on the first day of the electronic system coming into being. I think that not only a lot of people have tried to get on to the site to renew their car tax but also a number have tried to access the site to find out how the changes to the car tax system affect them.”

CEO of Scivisum, Deri Jones, a website performance monitoring company, said that “It’s true to say that nobody could have predicted the volume of traffic on the website, there’s always an element of guesswork involved with something new like this. But with today’s elastic cloud technology there’s really no excuse. With a well-designed site it’s possible to scale up a website as and when you need it, even for short periods of time.”

Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, noted that: “Despite months of warning, Ministers have failed to prepare properly for today’s digital switch. Websites and phone lines have been overwhelmed, leaving motorists unable to renew their car tax. Ministers need to get a grip and ensure these new online services work for the public.”

The system has now been resumed and it has come back online. The DVLA now claims that a total of 270,000 motorists successfully used its online service the very first day which is almost 30,000 persons more than on the same day the preceding year.

The website auto trader survey recently revealed that:-

  • Almost 50% of the drivers were unsure about the actual process behind the switch and electronic discs.

  • About 39% of the motorists population were oblivious of the fact that it would no longer be possible to transfer road tax between the ex-owner and the new buyer of a vehicle,

  • 17% were unsure of where should the road tax now be paid.

  • And 26% of the drivers took the view that this change is not a good step for consumers.

Certain concerns being raised:

AA and the RAC the major motoring groups have raised concerns over the abolition of paper discs. Recently, an Auto Trader survey revealed that there is a lack of awareness of the disc’s abolition amongst motorists, despite being a major change in almost a century of road traffic law.

The new system disallows new vehicle owners from taking advantage of the remaining months and days remaining on their existing car’s VED and will need to renew the tax according to the new norms. This is being criticised by the AA as it feels that the Government may now be to derive “double money” from drivers. The RAC has expressed fears that doing away with the paper disc system may increase the number of motorists who drive without insurance which could in turn lead to a £167 loss to the exchequer.

The DVLA has appeared to have rejected the claims and fears being raised by the motorist groups and countered them by stating that there is “no basis” to the RAC figures and reacted by stressing that it is “nonsense” to suggest that getting rid of the paper tax disc would lead to an increase in vehicle tax evasion. It has further clarified that people who sell their vehicle from now on will be entitled to claim a refund from the DVLA for the unused months of road tax. The automatic number plate recognition cameras or the police checking VED data information will allow them to spot motorists who have not paid the vehicle tax.

A motoring barrister view: Will this also lead to the already overworked and under resourced magistrates court being clogged up with potentially hundred more minor motoring offences of driving without a valid vehicle excise licence? Only time will tell…

Source: DVLA website crashes on first day of law change


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Teenage drink driving still on the rise

Recent reports released by the UK Police forces reveal shocking figures concerning the involvement of under-aged drivers in the offence of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol.

The records were released in response to a Freedom of Information request, which revealed:-

  • That as many as 6,558 adolescents aged under 18 were caught driving under the influence of alcohol between 2008 and 2013.
  •  On an average 5 persons aged under-18 were caught for the offence of drink driving each week.
  •  Some offenders aged under 18 were caught driving without insurance and almost  25% of them  were aged 16 or younger.
  • The in-camera provider at Nextbase, in 2011 recorded the youngest offender in the Thames Valley in 2011 who was aged only 11,
  • Some areas saw a manifold rise in the number of such offenders like North Yorkshire, West Mercia and Staffordshire saw an increase in the number of drunk-drive offenders between the years of 2012 and 2013,
  • Greater Manchester was found as the most heavily affected region for under-age drink driving in England, where a total 409 under-aged offenders were arrested, some of them were even as young as 12-year-olds.
  • Other areas of concern include Scotland, with 718 offenders, Hampshire with 276 offenders Devon and Cornwall and Sussex recorded 241 and 160 offenders respectively.
  •  The overall figures have dipped in the current year and Merseyside and Devon and Cornwall saw the greatest decline between the years 2012 and 2013.
  • A total of 139 adolescents under 18 have been prosecuted and have had to face court trials for drink driving between the years 2008 and 2013.  26 of them were aged 16.

Response by the State authorities:

“Drink driving is a menace that costs lives, and the government is strengthening the law to help police crack down on this problem.” The Government declared that the drink driving laws were being strengthened.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Under-age driving is illegal and no person under the age of 17 should be driving a car. We have tough laws in place to tackle those caught driving without a licence.

A Criminal Barrister: Point of view

Under-aged drink driving is a major concern in the UK.  The problem is still widespread and although there has been a gradual decline in the number of such offenders this offence is still persistent, particular amongst the young.

Involvement of young adolescents makes this issue all the more complicated as a criminal conviction, being disqualified from driving could have the serious consequences for a young persons future.  Whilst traffic laws should be enforced and obeyed, particularly for serious offences the figures also demonstrate that, law enforcement itself is not the only answer.The focus should also be on orientation of young persons towards the far reaching consequences of a drink driving.Instilling fear of the law will be far more effective and productive if information and drink driving campaigns were sustained rather than restricted to Chrismas so as to be properly understood and reasoned with young minds.

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