The Barber’s Shop Jaw-Jaw on Driving and Phoning

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ROAD SAFETY BY JONAS AGWU

On Saturday 13th February, I was at KAX barber for a haircut preparatory to Sunday for my Valentine date. The date was not with any other but with God Almighty for divine preservation in the face of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Incidentally, I was also scheduled on the same day to attend the Church service for late Professor Femi Odekunle which was held at the Methodist Church, Wuse Zone in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. For the records, KAX barbers is situated at Discovery Mall in Wuse 2, in Abuja the Federal Capital Territory. Kax barbers have been my barber for over twenty years whenever I am in the Federal Capital Territory. In all this years, I have refrained from the usual barbers talk, gossips, arguments and sometimes debate on sundry issues ranging from politics, economy, security as well as road safety and even marriage.

My exception is only when the discussion slants onto football; on Arsenal and Barcelona. Unfortunately, since the last two or three seasons have not been the best of times for such discussions especially with the sloppy form of both teams, I rarely find such discussions interesting. Even Chikezie, my barber who incidentally is a Barca die-hard fan has since stopped wearing his personal designer Barca jersey which was his pastime when Barcelona Football Club was in top form. Unlike Chikezie, I still adorn myself with my specially branded Arsenal jersey irrespective of their annoying and unpredictable form. To be candid, the sloppy form of both Arsenal and Barcelona can change your COVID-19 test result from negative to positive because of the tension we go through daily watching both teams flounder.

Last Saturday, I made a costly blunder and an exception when while cutting my hair, a customer who was waiting for his turn expressed his displeasure and anger at a Federal Road Safety Corps patrol team in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.The team according to him stopped him for driving and holding his phone. He expressed his reservations on the effrontery of the FRSC official to stop him for such, which according to him is not even a traffic infraction. It was at this point that another customer who is an acquaintance quickly informed the other customer that the road safety oga-pointing to me, is even here. At this point, I did what I told you earlier that I promised myself never to engage in any of the past times that is the hallmark of barbing salons; the gossips, arguments, debates and marriage talks.

The first thing I did was to address my friend who was bragging and boasting that he cannot be given a citation by FRSC patrol teams for driving with an ear piece. To deal with his ignorance, I politely told him that the use of an ear piece was not allowed as it was not legal because of the inherent dangers. I also informed him that I will be too glad to pull him over and give him a citation, should I accost him driving and using his earpiece.

While we both were laughing over my clarification, I then turned to the other customer and explained to him that the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2012 prohibits the use of the phone while driving. In clear interpretation, this means that you are not allowed to use any facility therein contained in your cute sized mobile phone because of the inherent safety dangers. I was however shocked when he cut in or rather interrupted my clarifications by describing the law that prohibits the use of phone while driving as draconian. When I saw his hard posture, I told him to please allow me explain or I will keep quiet. It was at this point that he said that if I won’t listen, then I am not ready to learn. I politely pleaded with him that I was in a hurry to catch up with my church appointment to honor the late Professor Odekunle.

The thrashing I received from this hardliner on Saturday was as embarrassing as the humiliating thrashing the PSG- led Kylian Mbappe handed my BARCA superstars. The thrashing is similar to what most patrol operatives experience from the immune road users who believe that they can never be involved in a road traffic crash. For such road users, no amount of education or persuasion on the intent of government through the enabling traffic laws will change their outburst. I have therefore decided for the sake of people like this customer who would always carpet government decisions or laws, chosen to share this material with my readers. It is not a new material but a material I stumbled on over five months ago which I found very refreshing and interesting. I do hope you would find it enriching especially if you fall in the category of the addicts of phoning behind the wheel.

I do not know if you are in the same category with the very educated and knowledgeable motorists who see the law on use of phone behind the wheel as draconian. Maybe you are not but you are among the diehard who insist they cannot do without making calls or texting . Maybe you do not text while you drive, but you are guilty of using talk-to-text or other features? Or are you in the category of drivers especially female drivers who indulge in taking pictures with their phone while driving or maybe you are like a VIP I once accosted who was driving and reading his mail along the busy and accident prone Giri junction in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. Or are you among the ones who insist that the law cannot bar them from using Google map while driving. If you fit into any of these category, you might want to set your phone down instead.

For the records, my friend who carpeted me is a regular traveler. As a regular traveler, his problem is not ignorance but gross attitude which is common among Nigerian road users when they drive along Nigerian roads. But I do not know if he is aware that since last July 2020, the State of Indiana which is the 38th largest by area and 17th most populous of the 50 United State joined the more than 18 States that banned using or holding cellphones while operating a motor vehicle .The exception is only for drivers to use hands-free technology such as Bluetooth or a cradle, or need to call 911 in an emergency situation. Part xix, section 166, sub section 1 of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2021 cited earlier, states’ that no driver of a vehicle shall while the vehicle is in motion receive or make a telephone call in any form’’. The Nigerian law follows best practices on how to cut down on the growing incidences of distracted driving which is a global pandemic.

As a road user, I know the temptation to multitask while driving. But as a Nigerian and a privileged road safety officer, I also know the risk involved in indulging in this dangerous pastime which has sent many to the grave. Like my uncle, Eng. Tony would always advice, shutting down your smart phone – or even placing it out of reach – may feel like an UBER driver operating without a map. This is because the mobile phone has become nearly a constant companion, and for good reason. That was how I felt on the same Saturday when shortly after my early morning walk, I couldn’t access any of the features in my phone until the technicians at SLOT came to my rescue at the cost of five thousand naira.

However, despite the usefulness of the pocket sized mobile phone, there is a dark, ugly and risky side to cell phone use, too. According to available data from the United States of America, one in four car accidents occur because a driver was using a cell phone. The reasons for this are very simple- Anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, even for a split second, is a dangerous distraction. Cell phone use, in particular, ranks as a top problem. Using a cell phone while driving, whether hands-free or not, makes it four times more likely you will have a collision. When you send or read a text message, it takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. Going 55 miles per hour while texting is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed! Young drivers are particularly susceptible to distractions. They know they should not text or email from behind the wheel, but many of them feel invincible and do it anyway.

There is why the Federal Road Safety Corps like other enforcement agencies the world over are concerned over the growing incidences of road traffic crashes caused by driving and phoning. I wouldn’t bore you with cases of crashes, injuries and deaths caused by use of phone while driving. Anyone describing the law as draconian needs a proper tutoring on what the global trend on road traffic crashes is currently with 1.35mdeaths and over 50 million severe injuries. Africa, including Nigeria account for a bigger chunk of the crash trend. As a driver, you need to be conversant with the provisions of the law which bars you from your safety and the safety of others from using your phone while driving-whether receiving or making calls, reading or sending messages from emails, WhatsApp, among others. Rules for Staying Safe on the Road.

To stay safe, kindly follow these common sense guidelines to stay focused on the road: Let calls go unanswered while driving, pull over to make emergency phone calls, make check-in texts or calls after arriving at a destination and lastly get directions or look at a map before starting the car. The last tip is crucial for the numerous people who quickly take me to the cleaners when the discussion is on use of google map. Like I said earlier, there are consequences for driving and using your phone-getting a citation is all about paying fines. The real consequences are ending up in the morgue or the hospital bed.