Worries of the mobile kind

The use of mobile phones by drivers is the latest worry of traffic safety managers in the city. The problem has become serious enough for the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre to think of gearing up its campaign machinery to tackle the problem.

The cell phone is becoming a potential contributing factor in many road crashes, says Mahesh Chand of Natpac. In countries like the USA, cellphone related crashes have grown from less than 1,000 two years ago to 2,600 this year.

Marketing personnel, lawyers, doctors, politicians, senior Government servants, popular artists, etc., have been found to indulge more in the use of mobile phones while driving. When the driver is in a state of mental tension, the situation is all the more serious. ``Some drivers feel confident of handling the steering wheel with one hand while wielding a mobile phone in the other. They do not realise that the main danger of using a mobile phone comes not from losing control of the wheel, but from distraction,'' points out Dr. Chand. As traffic safety managers see it, the use of a cellphone distracts the attention of the driver from the main task of driving. "Again, the content of the phone message may be distressing, exciting or thought-provoking.

This prompts a sudden change in the mood of the driver and the risk of his committing a mistake goes up,'' he says.

Most of the crashes involving cellphone drivers are head-on collisions with a fixed object on the roadside, and hence turn out to be fatal. Using any type of mobile phone, either hand-held or with a so-called hands-free kit, is equally risky when driving, he avers.

Experts feel that it is not enough to educate drivers about the potential dangers of using cellphones on the road. Suitable amendments should be made in the Motor Vehicle Act and Rules to make it a culpable offence and to enforce it strictly.

By Harish Govind M.

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