More cellphones, more wrecks

>Lazarus Sauti

The world today is entangled in technology – an integral part of our existence. Without cellphones, for instance, people seem to gasp for air, struggling like a Tiger fish out of Lake Kariba.

The fact that 96 percent of Zimbabweans have cellphone services, according to a report by Afrobarometer, a pan-African and non-partisan research network, vindicates the notion that cellphones have slowly morphed into our personal and public domains.

However, the handiness cellphones offer must be judged against the dangers they create as their use contributes to the problem of inattentive driving, adding to the already costly problem of road injuries and deaths, a fact supported by a recent road-safety study by insurance company Allianz, which reveals that cellphone distractions double the risk of an accident.

“Distractions while driving are one of the central causes of accidents on the road, and it is getting worse with the increased use of smartphones and other electronic devices in the car,” notes the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) study.

Tatenda Chinoda of the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) concurs that in this day and age of cellphones, distracted walking – the behaviour by pedestrians to be obstructed whenever crossing or walking along the road – has become an emerging road safety challenge.

“Distractions associated with cellphone use while driving are far greater than other distractions,” he says, adding that in the last quarter of 2016, more pedestrians were hit by cars as compared to the same period in 2015.

Statistics provided by the police indicate that from December 15, 2015 to January 2, 2016, 130 people were killed in road traffic accidents compared to 102 during the corresponding period, that is December 15, 2014 to January, 2, 2015.

In South Africa, asserts Allianz, the major cause of road deaths (58 percent) is alcohol-related, but a significant 25 percent of accidents are caused by the use of cellphones.

Allianz adds that in Germany, accidents caused by distractions killed 350 on the roads in 2015, even more than the 256 people who died in an accident with someone under the influence of alcohol.

Motorist, Wilbert Zvemoyo, says statistics from the police and Allianz prove that using cellphones on the road is dangerous.

“People used to complain about motorists who text-drive, but honestly pedestrians are worse and more dangerous as they pay more attention on their cellphones rather than the road,” he said.

Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) president, Tafadzwa Goliati, concurs.

“We are finding more road fatalities as a result of pedestrian inattentiveness and most of these crashes occur when walkers cross busy roads whilst texting, listening to music on their mobile phones, eating or drinking,” he says.

Goliati adds that when pedestrians multitask whilst crossing streets, distracted attention increases their risk of crashes.

“According to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, using cellphones while driving distracts the driver from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds and increases the chances of an accident by a massive 23 percent,” he says, adding that the World Health Organisation (WHO) November 2016 Factsheet notes that drivers who use cellphones while driving are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who don’t use cellphones while driving.

To avoid road traffic crashes stemming from cellphone use and other distractions, Chinoda, who is also a road safety educator, tips pedestrians to put down their cellphones as well as eliminate other distractions such as listening to music, reading books and studying maps.

“This simple tactic of putting down the cellphone is essential to avoid any injury where a distracted individual bumps into a pole, another pedestrian or an on-coming vehicle,” he adds.

Communications expert, Sibusiso Tshuma, says although cellphones are at the heart of human development as they enable people to access information, drivers who use them while driving should be heavily penalised.

“While there is little concrete evidence on how to reduce cellphone use while driving, our government and other stakeholders in traffic safety need to be proactive and take strategies such as adopting legislative measures, launching public awareness campaigns and regularly collecting data on distracted driving to better understand the nature of this problem” she adds.

Dr Joram Gumbo, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development in Zimbabwe, says his country is committed to the United Nations declared Decade of Action for Road Safety, which envisages halving road traffic deaths by 2020.

“Accordingly, there is need to develop and implement comprehensive programmes to improve pedestrians, passengers, drivers as well as cyclists’ road user behaviours, especially around the use of cellphones,” he advices.

January 2017
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