The risks of talking on mobile phones, handheld or handsfree, whilst driving are grave but Nigerians have kept talking on wheels.
Elegantly dressed and looking responsible, a lady in his late thirties came out of a shop in Ikeja recently with a baby on a cot.
She put the baby in her brand new Volkswagen Bora car seat, and drove off, all while chattering inanely on her mobile phone.
Wonder why she could not have finished the conversation before driving off, especially with a baby in the car?
What if just 100 metres away, a mini passenger bus popularly known as Danfo traveling at a higher speed had came face to face with her car?
Well, this ludicrous kind of selfish stupidity can only happen in Nigeria where it seems some people have axes to grind against every law.
Driving in Nigeria, has since ceased to be an exercise of skill and responsibility and instead the car has become an extension of the daily lives of Nigerians who consider it their given right to resist any attempt to legislate against the citizens’ domain on four wheels.
Today in major cities it is a familiar sight of people driving while holding and talking on their mobile phones.
Using a hand held mobile phone and driving is illegal in many countries including Nigeria but few are usually prosecuted in the country for dangerous or careless driving.
There are a lot of accidents with fatal injuries and death caused by using mobile phones while driving have occurred but there are no official record linking these accidents to talking while driving.
Driving a car while talking on mobile phones is just crazy, it is the easiest way to put the driver and other people in danger.
Cell phones no doubt have become increasingly popular over the last few years. In fact, it is amazing to find out that as many people as possible in the cities have cell phones.
Cell phones are, also lifesavers to have in case of emergencies but the unpalatable features especially the wrong uses are as disturbing.
Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), the agency in charge of road safety in the country had in its determination to curb the rate of road accidents in the country, released books and audio tapes aimed at instilling proper road culture in children, young adults and motorists.
Corps Marshal, Major General Haladu Hannaniya (rtd), said the book entitled “Road Safety Tips for Children and Young Adults” was designed to inculcate sound road culture in the minds of the youth.
“The drivers and exposed road users would learn defensive driving techniques and tips on safe driving while children and youths would imbibe sound road culture early enough,” he said
The agency has also reported that many drivers now recognize that cell phones are the biggest distraction while driving – more than time pressures, eating, drinking, using the radio or changing music.
Even the most careful of drivers will be distracted by a phone call or text message – it affects concentration and anticipation.
Talking on a mobile phone while driving however, compromises the safety of everybody
Proprietor of Dan Driving School, Lagos Mr. Dan Ebi said that talking while driving affects the ability of the driver to concentrate and anticipate the road ahead, thereby putting the driver and other road users at risk.
Some argue that talking on a phone is worse than driving drunk and have called for stiffer penalties for offenders.
Others however say that the claim that it is more dangerous than drunk-driving is wrong and will not help to educate motorists about the dangers of inattentive driving.
Mr. Ebi insists that using a mobile phone impairs driving adding that any driver will be distracted by a phone call or text message.
Medical Director of Care well Clinic, Egbe, Dr. Toyin Odediran, agreed and said that phone conversations have been shown to cause a cognitive disruption in drivers.
According to him, the driver’s brain is engaged with the conversation, even when he pretends to be paying attention to the road
A mobile subscriber and concerned Nigerian, Mr. Jude Kpoi Uzozie said that he is looking for a day when the use of mobile phones when driving, both hands held and hands-free, become as socially unacceptable as drunk driving.
He said that it requires discipline on the part of the users and sense of responsibility by the government to ensure enforcement and sanctions.
The use of the so-called hands free has also been called to question especially after a study by University of Rhode Island.
The study though very controversial, looked at the eye-movements of drivers and found them to have a reduced field of view, or tunnel vision.
Using a head-mounted eye-tracking device, the researchers concluded that tunnel vision caused by mobile phone use continues well after the conversation ends, perhaps because drivers are still thinking about the conversation.
Hands-free phones have been available since the mid-1990s. Most of these devices are connected by a wire to a regular cell phone, but a few wireless models use short-wave radio technology to exchange signals with the host phone.
There are however, people who argue that the ability of someone to deal with a distraction varies from individual to individual and from circumstance to circumstance.
The FRSC said that the safest approach on wheels is to switch off the phone.
“This is, by far, the safest approach. Use your voicemail or message service to access missed calls when you are able to stop or at the end of your journey” the FRSC said
According to the agency, “If you must use your phone while travelling, always stop in a safe place, or equip your vehicle with a ‘hands-free’ system. Be aware that even when you use a ‘hands-free’ system, your mind will not be fully on driving but on the conversation, so keep calls as short as possible.”
Also remember to inform the caller that you are driving and that you wish to keep the conversation short and simple.
We must however need to be careful not to lose the proved safety benefits of mobile phones when attempting to avoid what is just one of the many everyday distractions faced by motorists.
by Ken Nwogbo from Lagos.