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Opinions of Thursday, 18 June 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Driving while Texting and Yakking----Do You Know the Cost?

A Case against “Cellphoneholic” Drivers. Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving should be against the law in Ghana, because texting- and- yakking –drivers are killing us softly. Cellphone technology is supposed to help us carry out the tasks of daily life, instead of interfering with them and killing us.

Driving while using a cell phone or texting messages is dangerous and lousy idea. Even most auto insurance companies around the world are refusing to honor a claim if they found out that the driver of an accident was fiddling with a cell phone or texting on the cell phone when the accident occurred.

It’s also against the law in many states in America for using a cell phone while driving. Most states in the United States are actively attempting to ban driving while texting (DWT) and driving while on the phone (DWP) And, some people are going as far as banning cell phone use completely while driving. What do you think?

The proponents of the cellphone ban say the ban of cell phone conversations entirely will prevent distractions for the drivers. They believe that not only both hands stay on the wheel, but the drivers’ attention should be focused on the road and the wheels. I say ‘A-m-e-n’ to that!

Do you remember the days not long ago when we had no problem living without cellphones in Ghana? As a nation we probably spend more money on cellphones than on books. What is wrong with that picture? Well, I’ll leave that for another article. But, the point is, modern life in Ghana is a mess of countless information that we generate and accumulate during our working hours and our days’ activities. In fact, a cell phone usage is a cherished natural pastime or a social and economic necessity particularly in the rural areas in Ghana, where there are no mine- lines

However, it’s more about consumers’ sociology and psychology than anything else. The senses of staying connected and reachable instantly and flaunting one’s status symbol have fueled the demand of cell phones. Therefore, at some point, it has become socially unacceptable in Ghana—at least, for many people— not to have a cellphone. But, it has become our Achilles’ heel in fighting against road accidents in Ghana. The perils of obsessive cellphone use have well-documented, including distracted driving and the stress from multitasking. Now, to add insult to injury television has been added to the twist. Drivers can watch television on their cellphones while they drive themselves and the passengers to the grave...

Undoubtedly, Smartphone is increasingly moving from being a gadget to necessity. Blackberrys, Palm -Pre and other Smartphone models are doing everything of which we can think. They can play music, take pictures, give directions, and allow us to surf the internet and watch TV. But, they are also matching us into our graves at alarming rates, through vehicle accident and other incidents.

On September 12, 2008,there was a train accident in Los Angeles, California which claimed 25 lives and injured 139 people---which was attributed to “human error”—a euphemism for ” cell phone -abuse” .This is what happened: A commuter train sped past a red signal light and collided head –on with a freight train. According the investigation reports, the engineer (the operator of the passenger train)—who was also killed in the crash—was allegedly using his cell phone, sending text messages. The operator of the freight train was also using his cell phone when both trains collided. In Britain, a minister in the Home Office was fined for using a cell phone while driving. So that goes to show that people are fighting against ‘cellphoneholics’ everywhere—who use cell phones while driving (DWP).

In Ghana, it’s believed that the debut of cellphones in our lives has contributed to the rise in road accident .The news reports are saturated with grim statistics about cell phone related accidents and deaths. But, we seem to do so little to combat this behavior. I wonder if there is any law against driving while using a cell phone in Ghana. If not then our policy makers should think seriously about it.

In our efforts to control the frequent vehicle accident on our pot- hole-ridden roads, there is a need to regulate cell phone usage while driving because cell phone related accidents on our roads are getting rampant.

According to the Ghana’s Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Authority(DVLA) report” road accidents in Ghana consumes 1.6 percent of our GDP”—which is way too much for a nation like ours—especially given the needed priorities that need financial attention. So any idea which can reduce this malice on our roads is not only saving money for the nation, but it also human capital investment. The nation is robbed everyday of its able-bodies and human capital resources; whenever there is a deadly car accident. Yet there no comprehensive solutions designed to stop this predictor from preying on us. What a waste of Ghana’s potentials! . It’s both economic and social tragedy, anytime life is taken away by road accidents, when the victims could have been fulfilling their potentials in making constructive contributions to the nation and humankind.

There are many casualties of road accidents, other than the actual victims. The emotional and economic costs to the deceased’s families left behind, business ideas that never saw the light of the day, books that were never written, dreams that never accomplished and a fragile nation which is being robbed of its scarce human capital.

I’m not here to suggest the banning of cell phones usage completely, but driving while using your hands to text or fiddling with the cellphone is causing us arms, legs and life—literally and figuratively. I’m a bleeding -heart proponent of personal freedom, but I’m all for cellphone regulation .In fact, regulating cell phone usage for drivers is a little inconvenience we can endure. So when you drive don’t text or use the cell phone .And, don’t use the cell phone when you drive.

What if the call is urgent or very important? Well, technology has made it possible for hands-free devices, such as blue –tooth, loudspeaker, etc. to serve us. And, there is a company which has developed a system which reads all-important e-mail or text message back to you on a hands-free kit. However, all these gadgets still take our attention off where it matters most---the vehicle or the road.

So what about stopping the vehicle completely or pulling over to the side of the road if the use of a mobile device is required? So you want to take an important call, while you’re behind the wheels? Whether it’s the law or not use your head and common sense and pull over. For we can’t and shouldn’t drive and text willy-nilly without thinking of the ultimate price we pay.

How much human capital can we afford to lose or sacrifice on the altar of a new technology? How many more orphans, widows and widowers do we need in Ghana? How many funerals can we attend to trumpet the dangers of cellphone usage while we drive?

The perils of using a hand-held mobile phone while at the wheel are something we can not afford as a nation. But I wonder if our leadership and institutions like the Police and judicial system are ready to play their meaningful roles. Your answers are as good as mine but, we’re still texting and yakking while we’re driving all the way to the cemeteries and funeral parlors. We’re still talking and dying whilst our policies makers and leaders look other way bewilderingly with misty-eyed .

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi

NJ, USA

*The author is a social commentator and the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Foundation.