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EDITORIAL: Shut up and drive


BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Shut up and drive

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DRIVERS, start your engines, but turn off your cellphones.
This, hopefully, will be the advice given to Barbadians as Government moves to enact legislation to ban people from driving and using their mobile devices.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, while addressing the breakfast meeting of the General Insurance Association of Barbados (GIAB) on Thursday said this is one of Government’s top priorities as it looks at the deficiencies in the Road Traffic Act.  
Every day motorists can be seen driving and chatting away with one hand holding their cellphone to their ear and the other on the steering wheel. Some are so engrossed in their conversations that they drive slowly although there is no traffic immediately in front of them. Some are even seen gesticulating.
Then there are those who can be seen shifting their attention back and forth between the road and their phones as they drive and check emails or text. All of these practices are dangerous and can lead to horrific accidents and unnecessary loss of life. A ban on the use of these phones while driving, and strict policing to ensure compliance would reduce the likelihood of such tragedies.
We commend the Government for indicating their intention in this matter, but wonder what took them so long to reach this point. There are several quality studies that demonstrate the dangers of driving and using cellphones.
One conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Perth, Australia, concluded that those who use cellphones are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. In fact, driving and using cellphones is illegal in 25 countries, including Australia, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Israel.
In the United States, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, Janet Froetscher, estimated at least 28 per cent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.6 million crashes each year – are caused by drivers using cellphones and texting.
“We know that cellphone use is a very risky distraction and texting is even higher risk. . . . That is why we need to address both texting and cellphone use on our roads,” she said.
Brathwaite noted the ban on cellphones while driving is not the only distraction that occurs on our roads.
The importance of reducing recklessness also needs to be stressed. He said: “Just having cellphones banned will not necessarily mean the reduction of accidents . . . We have to encourage people to be more responsible on the roads. We cannot just ban everything because it comes up.”
Again, we concur with the Attorney General. Though cellphones are the primary focus among distractions which could result in accidents, activities such as eating, drinking and reading while driving are also problematic. Any proposed legislation should also take these into account.
Michael Holder, president of the GIAB, said that the issues pertaining to the Road Traffic Act and the issue of the use of cellphones, breathalyzer tests, presentation of driver’s licences and the presentation of insurance certificates at an accident were high on the agenda of the GIAB.
He added that when a look was taken at the Road Traffic Act and the number of road accidents occurring on the roads, measures needed to be put in place to reduce the number of accidents on the roads.
Government and GIAB are on the right track. If common sense and concern for personal safety have not proved strong enough to make drivers more responsible on our roads, then legislation is necessary to make them comply.
It is the reasonable thing to do.

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