Technology and road safety
According to the General Insurance Association of Barbados (GIAB) about 42 per cent of all traffic accidents here are caused by drivers who are distracted while in control of their vehicles.
Arising out of this statistic, and no doubt other factors, the umbrella body for insurance companies in this country is calling on authorities to enact legislation that would restrict the use of communications devices by anyone while operating a vehicle.
News stories resulting from the Press conference at which the leadership of the GIAB addressed this issue did not gave a clear picture of the “restrictions” the industry wished to see imposed. That’s because while all three daily publications referred to a call for a “ban”, none of the direct quotes published spoke to such a call. But we cannot say from this position that the word “ban” was not used by the officials during the event.
What we say without fear of contradiction, however, is that there is more than ample evidence seen each day all over this country to suggest there is a clear need for the regulation of the most pervasive of these devices, the cellphone.
It is not uncommon to see drivers trying to negotiate junctions, corners and roundabouts in particular, where two hands are needed, but with one occupied by a cellphone while they struggle to execute the move. It is also not unusual to be at a traffic signal or junction while the light has long turned green or the road ahead becomes clear and there is no movement by the driver ahead. A closer check then shows the driver is busy texting.
The growing popularity of the tablet computer has now compounded the equation with motorists actually surfing the net while driving. When you add all the other conventional distractions inside and outside the vehicle to this mix, we can perhaps conclude that it is only the grace of God that keeps our road fatality figures between one dozen and two dozen each year.
Against this background, we support 100 per cent the call from GIAB for legislation to govern the use of these devices, but especially the cellphone. We are not sure that an outright ban on its use would be enforceable, given that they have become in today’s modern society almost an appendage to the human body.
However, certainly there are supporting technologies for the cellular phone that would allow the user to take a call without being distracted, and even make a call using voice commands – while keeping eyes and hand focused on driving safely. Texting, however, has to be banned outright while driving if we want to minimise the chances of injury or death and the considerable costs associated even with accidents that occur without injuries.
This current situation as outlined by the insurance industry clearly demonstrates that we cannot roll back the hands of time where innovation and technology are concerned, but that we have to be prepared to ensure that the rules change to suit the game being played.
Right now we are about a decade behind the game. We have been talking about this for so long, while other countries have been acting, that some is our midst must have serious doubts about whether we will ever address the issue. It’s time to stop talking and act sensibly. Not even the most avid users of the technology can reasonably complain about the imposition of rules that will allow them to use our roads in relative safety.