ROAD SAFETY With Jonas Agwu
Are you among the educated and knowledgeable road users? Are you among the few deviants who believe that you can multitask by driving and phoning at the same time despite the inherent risks involved. Do you drive and make phone calls, text or read your mails on the go? Are you guilty of using talk-to-text or other features? If you fit into any of these categories, my plea is for you to desist from such driving habits.
I am being deliberate today because the friend who carpeted last week at my barbers is also educated, knowledgeable and exposed. He is also a regular traveler whose family resides in one of the developed climes. Yet he displayed what he knows he would not dare display outside the shores of Nigeria. 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 unless drivers use hands-free technology such as Bluetooth or a cradle, or need to call 911 in an emergency situation.
For the benefit of my readers, 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 their early 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 88.5km 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.
That 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 statistics of crashes and deaths is. For the records, 1.35million deaths and over 50 million severe injuries occur annually. 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 using your phone while driving for your safety and the safety of others. These include receiving or making calls, reading or sending messages from emails or WhatsApp.
To stay safe while driving, kindly follow these common sense guidelines to stay focused on the road: Let those calls go unanswered while driving and pull over to make emergency phone calls. You should 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. In the last two months in 2021, Zone 7 comprising the Federal Capital Territory which is under my watch has made over 658 arrest for use of phone while driving infractions.
The figure for July and December 2020 dwarfs the 2021 record as a total of 2630 arrest were made. Meanwhile there have been crashes, injuries and fatalities involving some of these diehard phone users. Despite the innovations introduced by the Corps to curb this through psychological/emotional evaluation has not impacted as anticipated. You may want to conclude by saying that it is typical Nigerian but I do hope such unrepentant know that every infraction committed gets inputted into their driving records and driving history through the penalty point system. My sincere counsel to all the die-hards is for them to desist from risk driving behavior.