Should texting at wheel be a social taboo?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020 00:00 |
Should texting at wheel be a social taboo?

Causing a combination of visual, manual and cognitive distraction, using a mobile gadget while driving is one of the leading causes of accidents or death, yet it is quite common even though it is illegal in Kenya. 

Adalla Allan @Adalla Allan

Bonface Vili, a motorist, recalls how texting while driving nearly cost him his life, an experience that transformed him into e a road safety ambassador.

  For him, it was normal to answer or make a phone call while driving to an extent of even texting while on steering wheel. 

“I trusted myself as an experienced driver; I could chat on the phone while driving, especially when the roads are not busy,” he starts.

This was his habit until one rainy evening in April 2018. He was driving from Naivasha descending between Soko Mjinga and the entrance to Kijabe Mission Hospital when he received a text.

Overtaking vehicle

 ”As my norm, I didn’t hesitate to check the text. It was my wife asking me to add more money for supper ingredients because it was getting late.

Without wasting time, I drew the pattern to unlock it —then went to my Mpesa menu.

Immediately, I was overtaken by a speeding county government vehicle that was overtaking a fleet of almost 10 cars at a go,” he explains.

As the vehicle was getting back to the right lane, the driver instantly pulled out of the road to buy roasted maize. It was sudden. 

“Remember, my mind was on my phone; I was not aware of my surrounding and didn’t know the cars in front of mine were stopping abruptly.

I tried to apply emergency brakes but the stopping distance was too short for me to stop or swerve.

I hit the car ahead of me: it damaged my front bumper, but luckily only slightly damaged the other car,” he says. 

That was the last time he drove while replying messages or phone calls. Bonface is not the only motorist to get involved road accident because of distraction from texting.

Peter Mbugua Njoroge, an emergency medical technician at Swift Paramedics also shares his terrible near-death experience on the highway two years ago.

He was replying to an urgent text confirming he would be available for work the following week.

“While texting and driving in a dual carriageway, a car was overtaking in my lane and I didn’t see it coming.

Lifting my head, I saw a car flashing its headlights and soon, my car was pushed to the edge of the road, ” he says.   

While he was lucky to avoid the accident, he learnt that driving while texting may cost your life within a blink of an eye.      

Texting or talking on the phone while driving has become a common behaviour for motorists and has been identified as a contributor to crashes.

Initially, most countries considered this a taboo, but nowadays motorists claim it doesn’t feel any different to conversing with someone in the car with them.

Recent research by the University of Calgary in America analysed nearly 100 studies about driving and cell phone use and found that talking on a phone makes you a worse driver, even if you use a handsfree device such as Bluetooth. 

Pedestrian danger

The research found that when conversing, drivers responded somewhat slower to important events in the driving environment, such as a lead vehicle braking or a pedestrian suddenly entering a crosswalk.

Drivers also detected and responded slower to targets, such as secondary probes and traffic signs that did not necessarily require an immediate response.

Collectively, conversation on a cell phone did not result in compensatory performance adjustments, such as increasing headway or reducing speed.

In Kenya, using a mobile device on the wheel is illegal, and comes with a fine of Sh2,000. 

Owuor Otet, a road safety consultant, advises that if the call is that urgent there is always an option of pulling over and attending to it.

Owuor says that if one texts or call while driving, they are 23 times more likely to have a car crash be it a handsfree communication or a direct one. 

“Texting while driving has become the number one distraction for many people.

Drivers need to be aware of the dangers and keep their attention on the road, not on their cell phones or other mobile devices.

But the real story behind the danger of texting while driving is far more interesting: it degrades our attention.

Over 90 per cent of crashes are the drivers’ fault. When you are engaged in conversation, be it on a call or texting— in the car—your attention is divided,” he says.

Owuor advises motorists to stop texting while driving as it puts passengers’ lives at a higher risk of being involved in an accident.

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