Road Safety & Cellular Devices
The Danger of Using Hand Held Communication Devices While Driving a Vehicle
There has been an explosion in the sales and use of hand held communication devices such as mobile phones, two way radios and touch pad tablets like iPad. It is estimated that there are conservatively some 40 to 50 million mobile phones in daily use in South Africa, a situation of almost one phone for every person. The global revenue for Apple's iPhone since its launch five years ago has topped R1.2 trillion.
Human nature being what it is, there will always be those tempted to use mobile phones, without hands-free devices, while driving. Oprah Winfrey, the Queen of the television talk show fame was one of the first proponents to appreciate the risk of drivers using hand held phones while driving and she has waged a one person crusade for a number of years in this regard.
Besides her efforts, a number of studies have been carried out in the United States of America to emphasize the high risk of sending SMSs while driving. Research, generally, indicates that even the "born with phone in hand" younger generation represent a major danger when texting while driving a vehicle.
According to website eScience, the Department of Community Health of the University of Oklahoma in the USA, conducted a study about the risk of sending SMSs or tweeting while driving. Two test groups of thirty students each, in the age group fifteen to nineteen, participated in the study. In both groups, the participants had less than one year's driving experience but were all considered above average for their texting skills. The simulator used to test the drivers in the two groups was programmed to register a number of common driving errors such as lane weaving, failure to stop in time and to observe pedestrians. The results indicated that those who were texting and driving simultaneously on average were more than seventeen times error prone than the group driving and not texting. In a further simulated test, drivers were encouraged to text from a position which could not be observed that they were texting while driving. The results indicated that this group had staggering error rate 22 greater than those just driving.
The City of Cape Town introduced a ground breaking new by-law on 1 July 2012 whereby motorists caught talking on mobile phones while driving, would be fined and have their phones confiscated for a day, and if not collected within three months motorists risked the loss of the phone. This was part of the province and city's campaign that aims to halve road deaths by 2014. Cape Town was the only city in South Africa where the road death toll was progressively decreasing, from 1739 deaths in 2008 to 1321 last year. The by-law requires that drivers of motor vehicles are prohibited from driving on any public road within the Cape Town jurisdiction while holding a mobile phone or any other communicating device in one or both hands or with any other part of the body.
Closer to home, the spokesman Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi of theThekwini Metro Police said the city would not rule out the possibility of implementing a similar by-law locally. He said that more than 1000 eThekwini motorists have been fined since January for using mobile phones while driving. During a recent cell phone blitz at two busy intersections 86 motorists were nabbed in an hour and fines totalling R43 000 were issued.
Gary Ronald, spokesman for the Automobile Association said: "You have to admire the innovation --- the thinking out of the box. The legislation is clear. The research data on the danger is clear. Like the name and shame campaign I don't have any problem with cracking a different kind of whip if it means saving lives".