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Distracted driving, a dangerous growing trend

By Dr S V N Vijayendra

Distracted driving (DD), whether it is physical, visual or mental, increases the chances of road accidents. In terms of road safety, DD, whether it is a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler, like using mobiles either for talking or texting, allowing kids or pet to sit in driver’s lap while driving, etc., is a growing risk factor for vehicle users and other road users all over the world. Multitasking and riving will not go together.

In 2015, DD-related accidents injured 391,000 in the US alone and it was a major factor in 3477 road accident deaths. DD is killing nine people every day in the US and it accounts for approximately 25% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities. Teenagers are the largest age group involved in DD. Nearly 80% crashes are attributed to DD.

World Health Organisation’s ‘Global Road Safety report 2018’ clearly indicated that using mobile by young and novice riders is increasing, especially among motorcyclists, who are already at high risk on roads with the highest number of accidental deaths and injuries. It said that use of telephone, whether hands-free or mobile while driving increase the chances of a crash by four times and texting while driving increase the crash chance by 23 times. Drivers’ reaction time also has shown to be reduced by 50% and they may ignore the traffic signal, which was also noticed several times by this author at busy city centre risking the life of pedestrians (K R Circle).

Use of mobile while driving by all types vehicles users (two-wheelers, cars – taxi drivers are more prone to use mobile phone while driving, vans, buses, lorries, tractors, auto drivers, etc.) irrespective of age (young or aged) and sex (men or women), location, whether on rural roads or in busy city centre is regularly being noticed even on city roads.

Another WHO report on DD indicated that in a number of countries, the proportion of drivers using mobile phones while driving has increased over the past 5–10 years, ranging from 1% to up to 11% at any one moment. Though law prohibits the use of mobile even in our country still people are ignoring it and use mobile while driving. If we cannot change the attitudinal behaviour of the drivers, in-vehicle technologies to stop the vehicle when the driver is using the mobile while driving should be made compulsory.

Lap driving which is also a banned activity in terms of road safety, which still people are practising and taking the risk on roads endangering the life of other road users also (RE, City Today, 27th April 2018). Taking eyes off the roads even for two seconds may double the chance of a crash.

Physical distractions like taking hands off the wheel to do other things such as eating and drinking, changing shirts, painting nails, shaving, steering with foot, moving around in the car to do anything other than driving, fiddling with the radio, touching a passenger, etc., also significantly increase the risk of a crash.

Mental distraction, also known as ‘cognitive distraction,’ like thinking about something else other than driving, shouting at the drivers in front of you, daydreaming, etc., can lead road accidents as they create ‘inattention blindness’ whereby you are blinded to what is happening around you because your mind is elsewhere. There was a collision between a train and a school bus in 2014 when the bus driver crossing the railway gate not noticed the approaching train as he was talking over the mobile due to cognitive distraction (RE, CT 26th July 2014).

For better road safety all road users whether riders, drivers or even pedestrians should avoid distracted driving or actions on the roads, which can reduce accidents and related deaths and injuries to the individuals and the burden on the families. (The writer is Traffic Warden and member, City Traffic Advisory Committee, Mysuru).

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