Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Road Kill

remember_me_m At the start of this new millennium, cell phones were a rare phenomenon in Nigeria. The technology was expensive, service was spotty and the use cases were not very many. We generally got on without phones, never mind cell phones. Things have changed dramatically in the last half decade. Now we don’t know how we will survive without them.

However, many people are dead because of them.

15th November, 2009 was marked as the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Accidents. The world was meant to stop, reflect and learn from the millions who have died from car crashes. Too many die on our roads in Nigeria daily. Most of the time we blame the bad condition of our roads, the bad condition of our vehicles or the lack of education of road users in correct road behaviour and defensive driving. We don’t consider the risk imposed by people yakking away on their cell phones while barrelling along at a murderous pace with one hand pressed to an ear and not much attention on the road.

Being a nation without much reliance on statistics, we often have to borrow statistics from elsewhere. However, for some things at least, behaviour is consistent the world over. While not wanting to do the usual bash Naija thing, I would say we probably behave worse on our roads than a lot of other places that do have statistics. At  the very least we do not treat the condition of the roads with the needed caution while driving. Anyway, I went in search of statistics (to borrow) to give us something to think about. The Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org) has an essay on various research results on the consequences of cell phone usage while driving. Most of the information is US-specific, but it is sobering and relevant to us.

The research shows a four-fold increase in accidents while driving and talking on a cell phone. This is independent of your age, gender or whether you are holding the phone to your ear or using a hands free system. 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve driver distraction as determined in 2006. This isn’t just distraction from cell phone usage, it’s not even the highest component of that stat, but it contributes to this number which has increased from the 25 to 30% of causes of crashes that it used to be.

Perhaps we can understand why people convince themselves that they can talk on their cell phones and drive at the same time. We rationalise it, maybe, by equating it to having a conversation with another person who is in the same vehicle. However, there is a whole class of idiot (and I use the term with no apology) who text while driving. The risk of an accident while texting and driving is 23 times greater than the risk of an accident while not texting.

These are stats from societies with good roads. That have required driving training before driver’s licenses are issued. They have vigilant law enforcement. Think how much worse it must be in our society. No phone call is so important that you can’t park to make it or take it. It will definitely be a lot less important if you are in a hospital bed. It will be forgotten if you are in a police cell because you killed someone while driving. The call will never be completed if you are dead. This might sound really callous, but I really don’t mind if you kill yourself, what I have a problem with is the other people you might hurt or kill in the process. Like your family in your car, the people in the other car, or the pedestrians. If you can kill yourself while leaving everyone else unhurt, please go ahead (especially, if you’ve taken a life insurance policy to provide for your family). Businessman driving in car and talking on cell phone.

I am being facetious, of course, but I hope my point is coming across as strongly as I can make it. Cell phone use while driving is extremely risky behaviour and we need to change that behaviour for everyone’s sake. I sometimes use my hands free kit while driving. I often talk to my wife while she is driving. I definitely need to stop. I would suggest that you do the same.  My wife, and kids (and my being whole and alive for them) are more important to me than the information I want to get or give. 


Bloody Flower Logo Courtesy of RoadPeace UK.

Driving Picture courtesy of Konstantin Sutyagin at flickr.com