Today, it has become the vogue to see motorists make calls, text and browse with their phones while driving. In Abuja, even drivers still struggling to master their grip on the steering engage in this dangerous practice.
You see the same thing in Lagos, Kaduna, Kano and other cities, where commercial motorcyclists (okada riders) exhibit this madness as they compete with drivers. Phoning while driving is not just a Nigerian problem. It is global.
In far away England, a Derby haulier got a four-and-half-year sentence for causing a fatal crash while talking on a bluetooth headset. According to Care on the Road, a publication of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, Marvyn Richmond, aged 49, was so engrossed in a conversation with his mother that he failed to notice traffic ahead of him had come to a standstill, and ploughed into the back of the queue, killing a passenger in the van. He was jailed after being convicted at Lincoln crown court for causing death by dangerous driving. Richmond, an HGV (heavy goods vehicle) driver for 25 years was oblivious to all around him, because of the 23-minute call to his mother and did not even apply the brakes of his Scania HGV before ploughing into the traffic. Michael Buston was killed outright, his brother-in-law, Peter Long was badly injured, and the driver of the lorry at the front of the queue, Andrejz Matkowski, lost both arms.
According to the report, the fact that he had both hands on the wheel did not alter the fact that he was severely distracted by talking on his Bluetooth headset. The use of hands-free phone, 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. This case is similar to the incident in Abuja, except that no life was lost and nobody jailed although the law now provides a seven-year jail term for anyone who causes death by dangerous or reckless driving.
In the United Kingdom, around 30 deaths on the roads each year are linked to mobile phone use even though the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accident (ROPS) believes this is “just the tip of the iceberg” because so few drivers admit to using mobile phones when they cause crashes.
The scenario is not different. Crashes involving distracted driving injured more than 500,000 people in 2008 in the Unites States of America. Deadly driving habits kill nearly 6,000 Americans a year, according to the National Highway Transport Safety Administration, NHTSA. Car crashes are the leading killer of youths in America – an average of 11 teens each day. As US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood says, “the mother who lost children, the children who lost mothers, you want no part of that kind of loss. Talking on the phone while driving causes as much impairment as drunk driving – its like driving after you have taken four bottles of beer and if you are texting while driving, you are 23 times as likely to get into a crash. In the US, nearly a third of all crashes are caused by drivers who are either talking on cellphones or texting. Studies have shown that drivers who use their cellphones for talking or texting have much slower response times than those who do not. They also have slower reaction times than people with blood alcohol levels of 0.08. Studies have also shown that people who talk and drive at the same time are four times likely to crash while those who text and drive are 20 times more likely to have an accident. While the dangers of phoning or texting behind the wheels is undisputed, laws that ban texting while driving have not reduced the number of crashes across four states in the US according to a study, but a slight increase in road accidents has been recorded.
The Highway Loss Data Institute compared the insurance claims in four states of California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington before and after the texting ban, with those in nearby states that don’t have these laws.
After the bans, crash patterns varied from one per cent more crashes in Washington to about nine per cent more in Minnesota, and the largest crash increase (12 per cent) after the texting ban was among young drivers in California.