Australia

Why? New rules and road safety.

It is the job of a government in this great democracy to make and change laws that are in the best interest of their citizens. Inherently this is a good thing.

Driving is a dangerous activity. Humans just aren’t very good at it. Safety should be paramount. There are solutions, and self-driving cars will be transformative both for safety and efficiency, but they’re a fair way off. Already this calendar year there have been 333 deaths on NSW roads, which is almost as high as the 340 in total during all of 2015. A leading contribution to increasing road tolls is mobile phone usage, and other forms of distracted driving.

As of next month, the NSW road safety commission are introducing a new rule for P2 (green P plate) drivers:

From 1 December 2016: P2 licence holders must not use any function of a mobile phone while driving or riding, or when stationary but not parked.

As a P2 driver for at least the next twelve months, this rule impacts me in many ways. But here’s the thing - I use my mobile phone in a way while driving that increases my safety on the road. I don’t use it for phone calls, text messages, or Tweeting, but instead only use the GPS/maps functionality. The current law states that a P2 driver is not allowed to touch his or her mobile phone, but it is allowed to be used for navigation. This is, in fact, more safe and more convenient than the alternative. Safer because my only job while driving is ensuring that I don’t crash the car. Use of a mobile phone as a GPS allows the driver to focus on what they need to, and not get caught up too much in the route when travelling to an unknown location. I don’t like driving at the best of times, and this rule will only add to my own stress on the road as I now need to be on top of navigation too.

There are a couple of “solutions” that aren’t as great as they may first seem:

  • Use a UBD. Yeah, that’s right. That old printed book thing with maps in it. Not only do they become outdated very quickly, but they’re also a downright danger to look at while driving. “Well pull over and read it!” I hear you say. Sure, but that’s a step backwards from having my phone yell directions at me as I drive around. Hello, 1990.

  • Buy a standalone GPS. They aren’t illegal for a P2 driver to use. This is true and is the “solution” that I will ultimately choose. But why? Why is this the solution? A standalone GPS device is also a step backwards from using a mobile phone. There’s still a screen to potentially be distracted by, albeit without the notifications streaming in.

When I use my mobile phone as a navigation device while driving, I don’t doubt its accuracy. It’s never failed to direct me somewhere, including times when it feels like I’ve driven to Narnia and back. I know that the maps on my mobile phone are always up to date - and they get better each day. They’re extremely reliable. GPS units are difficult to update, which discourages people from ever doing so. This can lead to out-of-date maps which in and of themselves can be a danger if they misguide you. If a GPS started taking me a route I knew was incorrect, but I didn’t know the area well enough to correct it, I’d panic. Remember, the only drivers affected by this rule change are young and inexperienced, and hence less likely to be familiar with different roads.

Another thing is, a mobile phone that’s mounted on the dashboard or front window of a car is in a position that’s difficult for the driver to touch and/or manipulate. This means they’re unlikely to try and send a quick text, or any other dangerous use of the phone while driving. If a GPS is mounted instead, and the driver’s phone is within arms reach, they’re probably more likely to try and use their phone while driving. Allowing use of a phone as a mounted GPS would surely be safer in that regard.

It comes down to safety, and convenience. It’s the government’s responsibility to reduce injuries and fatalities on the road, and while reducing mobile phone use by drivers is a good thing, safe, responsible young drivers such as myself are hugely disadvantaged. As someone who relies on their phone for navigation when driving, the alternatives aren’t as reliable, and in turn, have the potential to decrease the safety of myself and others while we drive. The alternatives aren’t as reliable, nor as convenient, and every time I have to drive somewhere unknown after December 1st I will be slightly more anxious than I already am in these scenarios. This new rule only impacts responsible drivers, and yet the ones who do make dangerous decisions on the road (like allowing themselves to be distracted by a mobile phone) will continue to do so. We need to do everything we can to ensure drivers “get their hand off it,” but this isn’t the right way to go about it.

Australian Banks Ask Competition Regulator to Allow Collective Boycott of Apple Pay

There are plenty of articles floating around the web this evening that try to explain the state of Apple Pay in Australia in light of the recent media attention the issue has received, but I’m linking to this one by Graham Spencer because, as an Australian, he is one of the more qualified people to talk about it.

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The fact of the matter is that Australia’s contactless payment infrastructure was leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world, and in particular the United States, not long ago. We’ve remained in the lead, on par with Canada, but I fear that lead will be short lived. Since the introduction of Apple Pay in the U.S.A., their contactless payment infrastructure has surged ahead and with the help of offerings such as Square, will probably rival if not exceed that of Australia shortly.

The reason the banks down under aren’t as keen on mobile payment as most feel they should be (with the lone exception of ANZ) is that they spent years getting ahead with their own proprietary technology. This rollout took time and money and they don’t like the thought of Apple and others waltzing in and taking advantage of this infrastructure. This is a poor excuse, and one that if the banks hold on to for too long could result in Australia falling back from our “world leader” status in contactless payment technology. Surely the competitive advantage derived from fantastic contactless infrastructure is nearly at an end, and opening up the infrastructure is the next step forward?

Customers want mobile payment solutions, it’s that simple. It has worked in the States, and hasn’t created competition problems. In fact, Apple Pay has spurred innovation and investment in infrastructure. Who’s really interested in the $2.99 “tap and pay” sticker offered by the Commonwealth Bank? It’s ugly and clunky. Apple/Android Pay make for a far better user experience. Ultimately shouldn’t the banks be striving to deliver this?

If Australian banks had their way they’d have infinitely more control over payment systems than Apple request with Apple Pay. It’s not Apple we should be worried about. As Graham says in his article, Apple aren’t foreign to negotiating Apple Pay deals either. The “fear” the banks are pretending to have of Apple, Google, and Samsung isn’t warranted.

Quite frankly I’m disappointed in the reluctance of my bank to support Apple Pay, and even more disappointed in the excuses they’ve come up with. Two years since launch, it’s about time all of the major Australian banks jump on the Apple Pay bandwagon.

Tips for first time voters

This Saturday Australians take to the polls after a record eight week election campaign. It’s been a long haul for everyone involved, and personally I’m over the pathetic advertising and campaigning from both sides. Will Malcolm Turnbull hold on to win his first full term in the top job, or will Bill Shorten prove to be the more popular choice and result in the fourth change of Prime Minister for Australia since 2013? The sooner this is decided, the sooner we can all stop seeing advertising with the face of either Turnbull or Shorten and a slogan as to why you can’t trust them.

As an eager first time voter, I’ve noticed this trait isn’t shared amongst my immediate group of friends - many of whom don’t know who to vote for or simply don’t care. The purpose of this post is to explain how to make an informed decision on Saturday - but not to tell you who to vote for.

My first tip is don’t vote for a minor party. You may have heard of The Greens and think they’re a tempting choice in amongst the whole Labor vs Liberal debate. Fun fact: They aren’t. Don’t vote for the Greens, or any other “minor” party for that matter. They don’t represent what you think they do, and quite frankly are a waste of time and money. Now I did say I wasn’t going to tell you who to vote for, and I guess I lied a little. But this is it on that front, I promise. Your choice needs to come down to one of the two largest parties - Labor or Liberal.

The second tip is don’t be tempted to donkey vote, or vote informally. This occurs when one goes down to an election booth and numbers the boxes in a way that isn’t genuinely a vote for either party. Although this vote is counted, it is usually uninformed and definitely a wasted vote. An informal vote means the ballot paper hasn’t been filled in correctly and these votes are not counted. In either of these instances, you are missing out on the opportunity to have your say. Part of this democracy we live in is the right to vote, and I strongly discourage against letting your vote go to waste. If you don’t bother to vote properly you have no right to complain about anything that happens politically for the next three years. Here are a list of good reasons against donkey voting.

“But who do I vote for?” Ah! The age-old question, and one that I’ve been asked many times in the last few weeks. Here’s the thing, I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you how to vote. Choose the party whose policies best match your interests. Choosing who to vote for is the one time every three years in which it’s socially acceptable to be downright selfish. It’s important to do some research, have a look at what each party is offering, choose what you value, and vote for the party who will offer you the most benefit. Do you care about health, education, the economy, the environment, how much tax you pay, etc.?

There’s one more thing that is worth pointing out: A party isn’t defined by their leader, despite what you may think. There’s a lot more to a political party than the one man or woman who stands at the head and represents them - because that’s all they do. They’re a chosen representative. It’s a matter of Labor vs Liberal, not Shorten vs Turnbull.

The most important takeaway you can get from this post is to make an informed vote. Take an interest in what is happening around you, and vote for what you believe in. Remember that your vote does count and it’s important to not waste it.

So, stick to a major party, don’t waste your vote by donkey voting, and vote for the party that best represents yourself. After all, they’re going to be running the country for the next three years.

To end, here’s a pro-tip: Waiting in line to vote doesn’t have to be torture. Google have put together a handy website at https://election.google.com.au/ to inform voters where to pick up a sausage sizzle while waiting in line on election day, so hopefully that will ease the wait.

Happy voting, and remember: You can’t go wrong if you make an informed choice.