Let me start this piece by first rolling the drums for my senior colleague and friend, Assistant Corps Marshal, (Dr) Kayode Olagunju who once headed the Planning, Research and Statistics department at the National Headquarters of the Federal Road Safety Corps for religiously doing what we pay him for by keeping us abreast with global road safety trend. I know a mild punishment he jokingly terms “court of injustice awaits me whenever he sees me at the Officers Mess at Gwarinpa, Abuja, the Federal capital Territory. Despite what awaits me, I make bold to acknowledge that it was his mail that jerked me up on the need to beam my searchlight on the growing global concern over deaths arising from the disease called distracting driving which is also a great worry to us at the Federal Road Safety Corps.
Distracted driving ranks as one of my top five risk driving behavior which has enjoyed prominence on this page and as we gradually draw near to the season of rush in the name of end of year or Christmas celebration, I believe I owe myself and the public a duty to keep us abreast of global interventions to crash the increasing deaths. The caption for this week’s focus is not mine. It is borrowed from the Federation Internationale De L’ Automobile. If you are a follower of road safety campaigns globally ,then you will know that FIA has been on the forefront of series of far reaching road safety initiatives including its role in seat belt campaign with the FIA toolkit on seat belt. I was privileged as Sector Commander Lagos State to host its President when I accompanied my senior Deputy Corps Marshal Yemi Omidigi( rtd) sometime in about 2011 when he visited Nigeria alongside his wife.
It is exciting to know that FIA Region 1 and its members clubs are currently launching a #ParkYourPhone campaign meant to encourage responsible Smartphone use in traffic. Before I dwell on the nitty gritty of this campaign, I must confess that one of my talking point for the campaign is the use of celebrities similar to what we initiated some years here in Nigeria where we have over one hundred celebrities drawn from the entertainment and the media as a plank for raising awareness: Pharrel Williams, a singer, songwriter and record producer is one of the faces of the campaign with the message; don’t text and drive #Park Your Phone. I am looking forward to a replication of this campaign within my Zone with celebrities driving the domesticated version of the campaign as a prelude to other initiatives here in J town.
I don’t know if you indulge in using smartphones while driving. I also do not know if you know the dangers involved in this risky venture which has caught the fancy of drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who feign ignorance to the fact that only a few seconds of distraction can make a difference between life and death. What then is distracted driving? “Distracted driving is the act of driving while engaged in other activities that take the driver’s attention away from the road. All distractions compromise the safety of the driver, passengers, bystanders and those in other vehicles”. Using your phone while driving which is our focus for today is one of the major distracted driving habits .It kills and maims. Although our national data is not as reliable as it should be, I believe that just one death arising from the use of phone is a good example for those who care to know the danger. I have severally on this page used the example of a former staff whose carrier was cut short because of a distracted driver who knocked him down while controlling traffic some years ago in the heart of the federal capital territory. Despite efforts made to provide the best medical care, his life has not been the same again.
To drive home the value of this campaign and my focus, this piece will make reference to statistics from the United States of America . But before I do that, I need to remind those who believe they are experts in multitasking by driving and using their phones,that it is a risky task.Such people must remember that the road traffic crash trend in Africa is one that calls for greater interventions on the part of government and greater caution on all motorists while using the road.
According to a recently released statement by the United Nations, 650people are killed each day through road traffic crashes throughout Africa. “There is projected increase in urbanization, motorization, infrastructure development projects and vehicle ownership in the region over the coming decades. Road traffic fatalities and injuries will continue to take a rising toll on countries if no significant changes are made” ,warned the Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt, while addressing the 2017 Africa Road Safety Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa.
Expressing concern over the continents predicament and the need to change the trend, Mr. Todt called on African leaders to implement the Global Plan for the Decade of Action and the African Road Safety Action Plan. The plan focuses on safer roads, vehicles and road users in addition to improved post-crash care and stronger road safety governance, including the enforcement of strong legislation. The Envoy also called for implementing basic laws not obeyed in some countries, such as using seat belts and helmets, child safety seats, and prohibiting drunk drivers.
“As much as strong legislation is important, a national vision and leadership are essential to lasting improvements in road safety,” he said, also citing opportunities to place road safety higher on global and national agenda.
He equally cited the need to place more resources in collecting data, which can then lead to the development of strategies, monitor needs and assess impact, thus leading to reduced fatalities.