On July 1, 2013, I had the privilege of appearing on a live Radio programme in the Federal Capital Territory. During the almost one hour programme, the move by the Federal Road Safety Corps to jail drivers who indulge in texting, phoning or even pinging behind the wheels came to the fore. Barrages of reactions trailed the discussion. Some of the callers commended the initiative; others were indeed miffed at what they described as the hard stance of the Corps to further oppress the poor. Some even described the move by the leadership of the Federal Road Safety Corps as that of an agency that is fine or money crazy. The same reactions greeted me when I again appeared on Rhythm64.7FM, Abuja on July 16, 2021.
Today, I am compelled to take another look at these reactions that were prompted first by the FRSC/UBA joint campaign against the use of phones while driving. Incidentally, another campaign, the Pan-Nigeria road safety awareness campaign was equally flagged off with some road safety partners such as Exxon Mobil, NNPC and the National Road Safety Partners focusing on distracted driving (use of phone), excessive speeding which accounts for about fifty percent of recorded road traffic crashes as well as the use of seat belt. The campaigns witnessed the donation of 60 Elite Pad 900 handheld tablet devices by the UBA Foundation, for tracking and enforcing the traffic laws, to the Federal Road Safety Commission. The donation coincided with the launching of e-Ticketing initiative of the FRSC for proper tracking and management of road traffic offences.
The objective of these campaigns was to reinforce the danger inherent in texting whilst driving and curtail the activities of those who engage in this unwholesome act. The campaigns were precursors to the ongoing emotional evaluation undertaken by offenders apprehended for committing these infractions and others that are not the focus for this week. The campaign strategy took the awareness campaign to the people through the mass media to spread the message by way of posters and other communication materials.
The FRSC gave thumps up to the sponsors for the initiative noting that “road Safety is a share responsibility” that can be further enhanced by partnerships. It noted the need to create safety for road users, ensure safety of our infrastructure and make sure that technology does not become a problem for road users. It is an offence on the FRSC Regulations for people to text while driving on Nigerian roads .The initiative coincided with the e-Ticketing initiative to improve time management and data integrity of the FRSC and ultimately helping to curtail traffic violations in the country. Stakeholders noted that most road accidents have been traced to this dangerous habit of texting and driving stressing that a five seconds distraction caused by texting could result in very fatal consequences.
What then is texting while driving? According to WIKIPEDIA, texting while driving is the act of composing, sending, reading text messages, email, or making other similar use of the web on a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle. This act is dangerous and has caused fatal crashes. Globally the act has been outlawed in some parts of the world or restricted. In the UK, the use of a hand-held mobile or similar device while driving, or supervising a learner is illegal. This includes when stopped at traffic lights, the only exception are emergency calls
Texting while driving has been outlawed in a good number of States in the United States such as Arisona, Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana and Maryland among others. The States of Texas prohibits school bus drivers from texting while transporting a child under 17years. Some years ago, the US Department of Transportation announced the signing of an executive Order directing Federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government owned vehicles. This, according to the Department, sends a clear signal to the American public that distracted driving is dangerous and unacceptable.
The Department followed this with a federal ban on texting while driving by truckers and bus drivers. Texting while driving leads to increased distraction behind the wheel .The Liberty Mutual Insurance Group conducted a survey of more than 90 teens from more than 26 high schools. The result showed that 37percent of students considered texting to be “very” or “extremely” distracting. A study by the American Automobile Association discovered that 47percent of teens admitted to being distracted behind the wheel because of texting. Distraction while driving is alarming because 40percent of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger. Eleven per cent of drivers aged 18 and 20 who were involved in a crash and survived admitted they were sending or receiving texts when they crashed.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that driver distraction was the cause of 18percent of all fatal crashes-with 3092 people killed and 416,000 people injured. The risk of crashing while texting increases by 23 percent, reading or sending text diverts the driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6seconds, the same as driving the length of a football field, blind, at 55mph. Although talking on the phone while driving is considered dangerous, the risk increased as short message services or texting became popular. Many studies have linked texting while driving to a series of fatal crashes. The International Telecommunication Union states that, ‘texting , making calls, and other interaction with in-vehicle information and communication systems while driving is a serious source of driver distraction and increases the risk of traffic crashes. The Virginia Transportation Institute found out that text messaging increases a crash risk 23times worse than driving while not distracted.
Even the use of hands free, according to the Transport Research Laboratory, makes drivers four times more likely to have an accident, with concentration levels reduced for 10 -minutes after the call had ended. The report also showed that drivers making hands-free calls had slower reaction times than those who were slightly over the drink limit.