In India, using a mobile phone while at the wheel, is killing people.
Commuting on the roads, to and from the workplace, I have seen some shocking, and frankly, unbelievable instances of phone-usage while driving. The offenders do not even attempt to hide the device or use it clandestinely. Instead, they flaunt the rules openly and feign innocence or ignorance when caught.
One instance was a busy signal, in Hennur, Bengaluru. Traffic was moving slowly, but a scooter in front of me was moving slower than the normal, and worse, meandering left to right.
Peeking ahead, I saw the rider was riding one-handed. Pulling up alongside revealed the person had a phone in her left hand, continually texting! The same person didn’t have a regulation helmet, so flouting rules seemed second nature.
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The most memorable incident has to be the time when the signal hit green, but the car in front still didn’t budge.
I squeezed into a gap in the right and glanced at the driver, who was taking a photo of something!
Each year, according to the WHO, India is the number one contributor to the global road crash mortality and morbidity figures. Every hour, 16 lives are lost to road crashes in India. In the last decade alone, India lost 1.3 million people to road crashes, and another 5.3 million were disabled for life. The WHO study pegged distracted driving as a major cause.
Distracted driving is basically not concentrating on driving as the primary activity, and multitasking while doing so. This includes activities like the usage of a mobile phone, eating and drinking, talking to co-passengers, self-grooming, reading or watching videos, adjusting the radio or music player and even using a GPS system.
Amongst these, mobile phone usage is said to be the most distracting factor.
TNS India Private Limited carried out a national survey, covering around eight cities in India. They covered 1749 drivers across four categories-four-wheelers, two-wheelers, truck/bus drivers and autorickshaw drivers.
The broad findings are quite disturbing:-
47% receive calls on their mobile phone while driving.
60% do not stop at a safe location to receive the calls.
20% have had a near-miss or crash, due to phone usage while driving.
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34% tend to brake suddenly while driving.
When you use the phone while driving, you face primarily four kinds of distractions:-
Visual distractions, which take your eyes off the road.
Manual distractions, which cause you to take your hands off the steering wheel.
Auditory distractions, that block essential sounds that a driver needs to hear.
Cognitive distractions that take the mind’s focus entirely off what it is supposed to be doing.
The prices we’ve had to pay for have been quite steep.
September 2016- a bus falls off a bridge, in Orissa, the driver reportedly on cell-phone.
October 2015- a bus falls into a gorge in Kashmir, the driver loses control due to distractions while on the phone.
July 2014- a school bus gets rammed by a passenger train, because the driver is on the phone, at the unmanned level crossing.
Now, keep in mind, that using a phone while driving doesn’t just cover receiving calls. It also covers texting, scrolling social media, and doing a million myriad things, when you are supposed to be driving.
The West Bengal Government recently introduced a rule, by which offenders could lose their licences, and the ability to have one in the future – if they use their phones while driving.
The state is cracking down heavily on cell-phone usage while driving, terming it as ‘dangerous’ rather than ‘distracting’.
The February 1st incident at Murshidabad was probably the last straw. A bus crashed through a bridge, and fell into a lake, killing 44 people. Eyewitness accounts and call records suggest the driver may have been using a mobile phone while driving.
Until recently, Bengal’s first-time cell-phone usage offence fee was just Rs 100, which caused many to flout the rules with impunity. Now, there is a fine of Rs 1,000 or six-month jail for the first offence. And Rs 2,000 or two-year jail or both for a subsequent offence within three years of the previous offence.
But for bus and truck drivers, the first offence will invite licence-cancellation. For private vehicle owners, the offence leads to the loss of a licence.
The Bengal Government’s step, to revoke licences due to cell-phone usage, is quite a welcome decision. And one that perhaps should be an example for the rest of the country.
In light of disturbing statistics vis-a-vis cell-phone usage and driving, I daresay that the step taken by the Bengal Government might just be the beginning of implementing some ‘best practices’, steps that can curb and abolish cell-phone usage while driving, thus rendering out roads safe for motorists and pedestrians.
It is no surprise that in a study, 94% of all drivers asked, responded that mobile-phone usage during driving was hazardous. 96% of all two-wheeler drivers also claimed that phone usage during driving was dangerous.
The study mentions, that those who have had a close shave, or an accident, because of cell-phone use while driving, tend to reduce dramatically the amount of time they spend on the phone while they drive.
Why wait for a close call, or an accident, to learn a lesson which is actually as plain as day? Just don’t use the phone while you’re at the wheel!