Thorns on the side
Kill the call, not yourself
Most people cannot bear to be without their mobile phone for even a
few minutes. Mobile phones did not exist in these numbers just 20 years
ago. Today, almost everyone has one. In Sri Lanka, 17 million people
have mobiles, out of a 21 million population. It has become such an
essential accessory, a major lifestyle device.
The mobile phone has revolutionised telecommunications – someone
calls you from a riverboat in the Amazon and you can accept the call in
the midst of a jungle safari in Yala.
Moreover, the mobile has become a personal assistant – a diary,
alarm, camera, music player, barcode scanner, sound recorder, note
taker, payment device – all rolled into one. No wonder we are so
attached to the little gadgets. There is another, much bigger device
that most of us cannot also do without - the car. We spend a lot of time
on the road driving or being driven, while having the mobile close to
hand. But using the mobile, especially a handheld, while driving could
be very dangerous.
In fact, thousands of accidents are reported from every part of the
world every month due to the usage of the phone whilst driving.
Many motorists use a workaround solution called the hands-free set,
which allows one to take and answer calls without using the hands. But
even this could be distracting. A moment’s distraction is all it takes
to cause an accident, which could prove to be fatal.
After a spate of accidents involving mobile usage in the US, the US
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called for an outright
ban on using all forms of mobile phones (handheld, hands-free, audio
system integrated) while driving.
At any given daylight moment, some 13.5 million U.S. drivers are on
handheld phones, according to a study released last week by the US
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A similar story emerges from many other countries. If the NTSB has it
way, all non-emergency talking, texting or other phone use by US drivers
would be made illegal. Many other countries seem to be interested in
this proposal. But the question is, is it rather too late in the day?
This question arises because the phone has become another vital car
accessory for most people, as the radio/CD, navigation system, map or
cupholder. They simply would not want to give it up.
Things are getting more complicated because carmakers themselves are
adding in-built hands-free phone functionality into their car
dashboards, such as Ford’s Sync and Mercedes’ Command. Some phones also
double up as navigation screens.
Thus the thought of being completely cut off from the outside world
is too much for most motorists. (Just to sidetrack a bit, the plane used
to be the only place where you could not use the cell phone, but many
airlines now allow mobile usage thanks to new technology).
But there is universal agreement that using the phone while driving
is even worse than Driving Under the Influence of liquor (DUI). Some
even call the mobile phone the “new DUI”.
Another big problem seems to be that while many drivers would not
actually use a phone while driving, they like to check or use it while
the car is held up at traffic lights or bumper to bumper traffic. This
could also cause serious accidents.
Regardless of whether a ban is in effect or not, there are certain
steps motorists can take to ensure their safety as well as that of
If it is a short journey, say for one hour, just turn the phone off.
With the missed call alert facility, you can check the calls that have
come in while the phone was turned off.
The other option is to keep the phone turned on, but dial or answer
any calls only after parking (if that is possible) safely. And do
refrain from texting while driving, unless you can get a passenger to do
that for you or there is a speech to text conversion system. If you must
use the hands-free, do concentrate on the road ahead, not the call.
There are instances when you could be distracted or disturbed by what
the caller says even if you are on a hands-free, impairing your
judgement on the road. Remember that you have to keep an eye on the
instrument cluster, the side and back mirrors, a navigation screen (if
available) from time to time. The phone could literally take you away
from the scene. As they say, kill the call, not yourself or others.
Obviously, the law enforcement authorities must crack down on those
who use handheld devices (not just phones - iPads, e-readers and GPS
units) while driving. In fact, there are many countries that have banned
the consumption of food by drivers on the move. Just the other day, I
saw a policeman ignore a motorist who was on the phone even after seeing
him, presumably because the traffic was very heavy and stopping that car
would have inconvenienced many others.
But this is not something that cannot be ignored at any time.
Motorists must simply learn not to use the phone while at the wheel for
their own safety. Using the phone is even more dangerous on roads such
as the newly opened E01 Kottawa-Pinnaduwa expressway, where the 100 Km/h
speed demands constant attention. We cannot stop the forward march of
technology. The mobile phone is one of the most useful devices ever
invented and it is simply not going to go away. Just 10 years from now,
the mobile phone will be so developed that even today’s top of the line
models such as the Apple iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy SII will seem
like antiquities. But whatever form and shape it takes, we should decide
whether we want to have it every second of the day. We did exist without
them, though the modern generation cannot remember and do not know a
world without the ubiquitous mobile phone. Perhaps we can still manage
to turn it off once in a while and especially while driving, then.