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Our Biggest New Road Hazard Is The Mobile
Phone And Most Especially The Smart Phone

Coastweek -- New technology brings new challenges to road users and the mobile phone has created new challenges and dangers to road users – both motorised and non-motorised traffic, writes Teti Kamugunda.

The range of information and options that is now being given to motorised traffic has increased exponentially and includes more data on engine performance and also in steering controls that allows the driver to change the display on the electronic dashboard cluster.

These controls also allow the driver to tune in to radio, change programmes and select the type of music and entertainment source they require.

We also have basic motorcycles in Kenya working as boda bodas that have been fitted with a lot of comfort features which also require the attention of the rider.

They have flashing light controls and in bike entertainment systems (for all they are worth) in addition to the normal controls that the rider has to attend to both by hand and foot.

All this means that the driver needs to be very alert and mentally agile to be able to drive effectively and safely.

However, by far the biggest new hazard is the mobile phone and especially the smart phone. During the advent of the use of mobile phones, in addition to speaking on the phone whilst walking or driving, another hazard presented by mobile phones was that of texting or SMS.

This meant that in addition to the mind and hands being engaged which is generally the case when speaking on the phone (there are hands free versions), ones eyes would also be engaged.

This meant that one would not be looking where they are going.

Mitigation for voice use quickly came on board with earphones and other hands free devices being invented.

This freed people’s hands and they could then multitask.

It created what were considered comical scenes then as one would see drivers in a vehicle gesticulating and talking seemingly to themselves but were in fact engaged with someone else. Proper use of hands free devices reduced the risk when using mobile phones in motorised and non-motorised traffic.

However, for texting it is another matter.

There has not been a widely available alternative to using the hand whilst texting.

Thus one would expect that all “sane” people would be careful.

However, people would not stop to text.

They would also not pull over to the side of the road to type their texts.

People insisted on composing their text messages whilst on the move – driving, walking, in meetings, in class – yes everywhere.

Technology then improved phones and in addition to texting one could now do a whole host of other things.

The coming of age of social media and the massive uptake by the youth and eventually the “bbc” denizens resulted in the mobile (smart) phone being an essential and almost ubiquitous item.

People wanted to stay connected so they put alerts on all their active connections so that they would know the instant any communication from social media arrived on their smart device.

This meant that responses would also be instant.

From Facebook through Linked-in, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Google, Messenger, Skype, Zoom, Moments, ChatON, and all those many Apps, people have become very busy doing social media.

The result of all this is that people are connected to their phones as they go about their normal business – walking, driving, eating, sitting on the loo, cooking, talking and so forth.

This connectivity by Homo sapiens results in risks to both motorised and non-motorised traffic.

I will touch on one risk and mitigation.

The first, the risk, was one that happened to me recently.

I had parked on a slip road to take a phone call.

When I completed my call, I started to move forward to exit the slip road back to the main road.

As I started to roll the car forward I noticed two people who were walking in the middle of the slip road towards my car.

Both of them were walking fast but busy looking at their phones and typing.

My car had moved from the left kerb and into the middle of the road.

The two people did not notice the change in the position of the car as their eyes were glued to the phone.

They kept walking towards my car but focussed on their phone screens.

I stopped the car rather than hoot at them and scare them out of their skins.

They continued to walk towards the stationary car and it was loud shouting from a watchman who was guarding an adjacent building that took their attention away from the phone.

One of them was able to stop but the other person’s progress was stopped rudely by wrapping himself or herself onto my bonnet.

His phone flew out of his hand and landed on the paved road.

I suspect the screen must have broken.

The fellow collected himself with a sheepish grin on his face.

He was good enough to come round to the driver’s window and apologise for his lack of attention.

So as drivers we will need to develop a sixth sense in terms of recognising pedestrians, drivers and riders who are on the phone for whatever reason.

It requires that we develop a defensive attitude towards oncoming phone using motorised and non-motorised road users.

The most common indictor is the stooped head pose.

This is an almost dead give away as to people using phones.

We will next week look at an innovative solution to the danger of phones users by using the stooped head pose as the starting point.

As Kachumbari says, mobile phones are probably the next human conditioning influence!

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