Beyond checking the rampant use of mobile phones while people are driving, we should also consider alcohol consumption and its impact on road accidents.
Driving, chatting, and texting on the mobile phone constitute an accident waiting to happen. The practice is growing. Sadly, many people do not see anything wrong with that deadly habit. This is why the proposal by the corps marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Boboye Oyeyemi, to increase to between N50,000 and N100,000 the minimum penalty for drivers using mobile phones while driving should be deemed timely, appropriate, and long overdue.
Oyeyemi acknowledged last week that increasing the fines imposed on reckless drivers has become necessary because the existing penalty has failed to serve as a restraint. He said: “Already, there are efforts before the National Assembly to jerk up the fine payable for a phone user while on the wheels. What is currently obtainable cannot do the work, but when you have to pay N50,000 to N100,000 for using your phone while driving, then we will get somewhere.”
There are different forms of negligent driving. In an age transformed by digital devices, the same technologies that have transformed the way we communicate, the way we interact, the way we work, rest, and take care of our health have also transformed in radical ways how we endanger our lives. Mobile technologies have been put to negative and life-threatening use by careless drivers who endanger other road users’ lives. In highways and ordinary roads, we see drivers holding their mobile phones in one hand while steering their vehicles with the other hand. Some drivers send text messages on their phones with one hand while driving with the other hand.
These outrageous behaviours are not restricted to people who operate vehicles. Pedestrians on roadsides have been known to hit stationary objects head-on, such as parked cars, electric poles, trees, and other structures because their eyes and attention were glued to their mobile phones. Mobile phones require maximum concentration and undivided attention of the user. Drivers cannot operate their vehicles effectively and safely while using their mobile phones. You cannot use your mobile phone and still concentrate on your driving. It is either you concentrate on your driving and switch off your mobile phone, or you concentrate on your mobile phone and drive blind.
Metaphorically, a mobile phone is like a married woman or man. A husband is expected to love his wife with no distraction from other social attractions. Similarly, a wife cannot show divided love for her husband and her mobile device. One must make way for the other. When people mix their mobile phones with their driving, the outcomes have been catastrophic. It is for this reason that many countries have banned drivers who chat or construct text messages while driving. Infringement of this road rule attracts hefty penalties. Arguably, human lives are more valuable than digital devices of any kind.
Nigeria, like some other countries, is badly affected by too many irresponsible drivers. The sight of road safety officials on the highways has not discouraged kamikaze or suicidal drivers from disrespecting traffic rules. Some accidents are preventable, such as those caused by drivers’ impaired vision owing to excessive alcohol consumption. Some accidents are caused by too much speeding, or drivers who operate vehicles that did not pass roadworthiness tests, or drivers who carry loads that exceed the capacity of their vehicle, or by drivers’ deliberate disregard for traffic rules and signs, as well as drivers chatting or texting on mobile phones while driving. The rising incidence of road accidents suggests that everyone is competing to breach road rules in Nigeria.
Ballooning road accident figures reveal a lot about our mechanistic driving habits, the crooked processes through which some people obtain their driving licence, drivers’ disregard for road rules designed to promote safety on the roads, general lack of consideration for other road users, and the supreme contempt people have for the value of human lives.
Some people attribute rising fatalities on our roads to the inability of the FRSC to apply road regulations strictly in order to halt the bloodshed on the roads. On all counts, this argument is weak. We do not need the intercession of a road safety agency to save us from wrecking our own lives. As the end of the year approaches, there is reason for everyone to be concerned. The end of the year is usually the season when people put on their worst behaviour. They believe Christmas and New Year festivities should be celebrated with no self-control. Not only do some people consume excessive alcohol, they also expose themselves to life-threatening risks when they are on the road. This is perhaps why December is generally regarded as the most accident-prone month.
Beyond checking the rampant use of mobile phones while people are driving, we should also consider alcohol consumption and its impact on road accidents. Alcohol consumption, particularly excessive drinking, hinders visibility and lessens a driver’s natural reaction time. Failure to observe road regulations has driven many people to their early deaths or caused people to sustain serious injuries. Still, many drivers choose to drink and drive. The two activities constitute a deadly cocktail.
We must also scrutinise the dodgy processes through which driving licences are issued to unqualified drivers. It is well known that people who want driving licences can always get them with or without passing a driving test. Someone once bragged that driving tests are intended for people who cannot buy licences over the counter. These abuses call for serious reflections. Driving licences must not be issued unsystematically and arbitrarily to people who are not qualified to drive, in the same way you cannot issue gun licences to people who are not qualified to own guns.
Slapdash references to the inevitability of life and death have served as excuses in Nigeria to put up with all manner of abuses and dishonest officials. As the number of road fatalities continues to increase, everyone must be concerned about the impact of accidents, particularly fatal accidents, on human resources. Arresting and imposing small fines on drivers who breach road rules is a slap on the wrist. Stricter laws are needed, such as laws that would instil sanity into drivers and enhance safety on our roads. Suspending or withdrawing licences of drivers who commit murder on the roads may not work in a country in which it is easy for people to obtain licences without undertaking driving tests.
Nine years ago, the FRSC released staggering statistics on road fatalities in Nigeria. Specifically, the FRSC report showed that 4,517 persons died through road accidents within 11 months in 2009. The report showed there were 9,226 auto crashes in which 23,081 people sustained injuries in 12,165 vehicles. If that trend was troubling nine years ago, the figures for today are shocking.
Too many people are dying unnecessarily on Nigerian roads. And the situation has become more dreadful with greater misuse of mobile phones by drivers who are determined to carve out their own little world, a world that is driven by thoughtless, suicidal, and deadly road rules.