Disasters of distracted driving

Harsher penalties needed to prevent cell phone use by motorists


Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — After the Saher system became somewhat successful in reducing the rate of fatal speeding, which was previously the main cause of road accidents, and most drivers started to abide by speed limits, a new problem has cropped up earning the title of silent killer: The use of mobile phones while driving.

Today texting while driving is the main cause of 78 percent of road accidents, which has claimed the lives of many young people. A 2010 experiment carried out by Car and Driver magazine editor Eddie Alterman, which took place at a deserted airstrip, showed that texting while driving had a worse impact on safety than driving while intoxicated, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.

Recklessness of drivers, including celebrities, in using mobile phones while driving is a big problem. Some of them are supposed to be role models in the community, yet they use SnapChat and other cell phone applications in the middle of the road.

This growing disaster requires the community to raise awareness and implement harsher criminal procedures for mobile phone users while driving, especially as many young people and adolescents may be influenced by the actions of celebrities who record their videos while driving with complete recklessness and complacency.

Dr. Mohammad Badghish, a consultant in neurology and physiotherapy, said texting and talking on the phone while driving leads to undesirable accidents. In the past, accidents were most frequent due to speeding and traffic violations such as running a red light, speeding and not wearing the seat belt.

"After the enforcement of strict rules, drivers now adhere to speed limits 35 percent of the time, but in contrast there have been other reasons, such as behind-the-wheel texting, that increase road accidents, resulting in deaths or permanent disability," he added.

Statistics indicate that the rate of disability is increasing by 8 percent in recent years. The number of people with disabilities in the Kingdom is approximately 900,000, and the causes of disability are different. "Therefore, I believe that tightening the sanctions on phone users while driving in order to preserve people's life and property and state resources is a basic requirement," Badghish said.

Psychologist and family consultant Meshaal Al-Harthy says the statistics show that the Gulf markets have the highest demands for smart devices, especially mobile phones. "Because of this technology, there are many negative indicators in the Gulf communities where young people represent 65 percent of the population," said Al-Harthy.

"Studies suggest that using mobiles in the wrong ways and making calls while on the road lead to fatal incidents. We must reduce the use of cell phone devices on the road and traffic authorities must increase the level of awareness in the community about the cons of texting while driving, and implement harsher controls and strict penalties to curb these deadly behavior," he added.

Khalid Al-Otaibi, a psychologist, said scientific studies have proven that the brain cannot perform several tasks at the same time. The focus will be less on one thing at a time and this is the case when the driver uses the mobile phone, he said.

"No one has the ability to focus when driving and texting, which results in greater risks of accidents. When a driver is texting, he is 23 times more likely to crash. Replying to a text message takes 6 seconds of driving, which is just long enough to cross the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour. Is it really worth jeopardizing one's life and the lives of others?"

Another study showed that brain activity associated with driving is 37 percent lower when the driver uses the mobile phone, which reduces the ability to respond quickly to hazards and increases the likelihood of accidents.