By Mashal JONAS AGWU, MNI
Do you know that globally, the use of phone while driving which has been my focus for the last two weeks is under-reported by the relevant authorities? Do you also know the same underreporting applies to road traffic crashes caused by the use of phone while driving distraction? Do you know that there are numerous challenges in collecting and reporting reliable crash data? This challenge is irrespective of the clime although it is more problematic in low and middle income countries such as ours. Do you know that the story is the same in our clime as most motorists including the classy, educated, as well as the very religious will rarely own up to using the phone when arrested or even when involved in a road traffic crash?
I remember a very hilarious incident some years back when I was sector commander in the Federal Capital Territory. As the Sector Commander, the current Corps Marshal Dr Boboye Oyeyemi charged me to creatively address the ugly trend. To checkmate the rising wave of driving and phoning infraction, I embarked on a unique intervention to address the rising scourge. The campaign was in collaboration with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA 2) under the watch of Wole Coker who insisted live feeds from my Command. The novel campaign/enforcement intervention involved using unmarked vehicles with plain clothes materials backed with video and still camera. Whenever we spotted an offender, we ensure the infraction is recorded using the still and video camera and thereafter, we pull over the defaulters and interview as well educate them on the dangers of using the phone while driving. All recordings were then submitted to NTA who would then run the feed as news on network. You can call or tag the campaign ‘’Show of shame’’.
After days of the campaign, we received positive reviews on the novelty and creativity behind the idea. As Sector Commander, I felt tall despite my Julius Agwu look -alike height. However, after series of arrests were made, we ran into a driver who was driving and using his phone. We tailed him from Zone 4 junction in Wuse in Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory up to the Central Business District just after the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. We pulled him aside but noticed as we approached him that he had quickly dropped his phone underneath his car seat. When he stopped and came out, he denied ever using the phone while driving despite witnesses who confirmed that they also saw him. To stop the discourse from dragging and guard against any kind of assault from onlookers, I moved closer to him and gently asked him, ’Sir, between your God and your yourself, were you driving and phoning’’. Like a comic actor, he paused, looked up to the heavens and said,’’ between my God and I’? At that point, the tape was cut because it made for a good cut for broadcast which was, as you can guess, aired on NTA network.
Today driving and phoning has become the vogue but do you know there are implications for traffic safety? I have chosen to share available reports and documents from experts’ which states clearly that driving while using a cell phone reduces brain activity associated with driving (e.g., spatial processing that helps drivers remember and make sense of the objects they observe on the street) by thirty-seven percent. These experts also maintain that drivers text messaging while driving behind the wheel are eight times as likely to be in a crash or near crash as drivers who are not texting. They equally submit that Phone conversations of any type as contained in the National Road Traffic Regulations,2021 cited last week increases reaction times and increase variations in speed, lane deviations, as well as steering wheel control. When conversing on mobile devices, either hand-held or hands-free, drivers increase their risk of a crash by two to four times. Meanwhile, distractions beyond cell phones are growing at a rapid pace as stated earlier while automotive soft news systems grew from nine million vehicles on the road in 2013 to at least 62 million in 2018.They are still growing as predicted. The key features of these technologies include “connected navigation, multimedia streaming, social media, and in-car Wi-Fi hotspots.” Therefore, drivers who use cell phones while driving with greater frequency are also more likely to engage in a variety of additional risky behaviors, such as red light running, speeding, and texting.
If you read my piece on’’ The barber’s shop jaw jaw on phoning behind the wheels’’, then you will find todays focus quite interesting as it hopes to deal with the great myths that is responsible for the increasing worry over the madness called driving behind the wheels. My focus last Saturday tried to paint the daily mannerisms of some road users including the exposed ones who should know better. As I navigate on this focus, with the aid of materials surfed, I hope it will resonate with your driving lexicon and mindset especially against the backdrop of a huge number of road users who often question the rationale for barring them from driving and phoning at the same time. To be candid, the myths are as numerous as they are adherents. It takes a lot of personal discipline not to be a deviant. As I dwell on these myths remember that myths are widely held but false belief or idea.
The first is the myth that says that drivers can multitask and trust me, this category swam of people irrespective of sex, age, education or tribal inclination. Even some learner and novice drivers hold similar views. But the bad news for these category is the reality that the human brain cannot do two things at the same time- like watch television and hold a phone conversation. The same is true when driving and talking on the phone. The brain switches between the two tasks which slows reaction time. I recall a research finding that held that you cannot do two things at the same time when the two things demand the use of the same resources or tools. Daily I am amazed and sometime amused when I notice a vehicle that is struggling to stay on the same lane for even a second. At a closer look, you will be sure that the driver is driving and talking on the phone. The truth is that nine out of ten drivers cannot boast confidently of being in firm control of the vehicle on motion while at the same time talking on the phone. So if you fall into this category, my plea is that you repent and guard against this risky and deadly driving habit.
There is yet another myth. This myth holds that talking on the Phone is like speaking to a passenger. In reality, backseat drivers are good for you. While adult passengers help the driver and alert drivers to traffic problem, people on the other end of the phone cannot see what is going on within the driving environment. Yet another myth posits that speaking through the hands-free is safe to use while driving, when in reality drivers talking on the cell phones can miss seeing up to fifty percent of their driving environments; including pedestrians and red light. There is yet another myth and if my count is correct this should be the fourth; fourth myth submits that holding the phone at stop light is okay, safe and risk free. In reality, however, even at stop lights, it is important to remain an attentive driver. For example, a recent American Automobile Association(AAA) study shows that people are distracted up to twenty-seven seconds after they finish sending a voice text. The last but not the least myth are for the information technology savvy frenzy whose position is that voice-to-text is safe to do while driving. In reality however, it is actually still very distracting. This is because when you engage in this habit, you are not only mentally distracted, but you are visually distracted due to the common autocorrect errors.