Turn Up The Dial Against Distracted Driving

I do not know if you read my piece last week on tweaking the rules guiding the inherent risk behavior called driving and phoning. If you did not, please I appeal to you to search online and read through. I will be too glad to get your feedback if you have the time and if you share my worry on this increased infraction. Like I said last week, despite the current interventions put in place by the Federal Road Safety Corps, I believe that we need to review current strategies and up our game.

The reasons are that there are observers like my humble self who opine that “the dial really needs to be turned up when it comes to enforcement. What this means is that enforcement Agencies such as the Federal Road Safety Corps need to have adequate resources and appropriate technology to arrest and penalize defaulters with the penchant for flouting this infraction. The resources include the buy-in of the lawmakers as some tend to equate effective and sustained enforcement as an encroachment on the rights of their constituencies.

I share this thought as it is glaringly clear that the current manual enforcement is not deterring anyone. Even the emotional evaluation introduced by the Federal Road Safety Corps to deter recalcitrant defaulters and the novel monitoring center now needs to be upgraded in the view of emerging technologies. I guess this was why the former Corps Marshal, Osita Chidoka kept saying that enlightenment without enforcement is entertainment which is also the mindset driving current innovations under the watch of the current helmsman, Dr Boboye Oyeyemi.

One of such additions could be in building on what we have by the deployment of appropriate technologies like is obtainable in some developed climes. A good case to cite is what is currently being canvassed in the United Kingdom. The argument is that the state of the art cameras designed by the Australian firm Acusensus which can take non-blurry images in all weathers at speeds reaching about 180kmph should be deployed.

It also can automatically detect handheld phone use and is currently in use in other countries. These countries include New South Wales, and Australia, where the new technology is estimated to have reduced road fatalities by a fifth since it was introduced two years ago. So, just as the government in the UK is being urged to evaluate this technology with a view to deploying it at the earliest opportunity, we can do the same here to curtain the drift.

To drive home the efficacy of this new technology which if approved in the UK would require a review of current traffic laws, a pilot test conducted resulted in 15000 drivers caught by a single camera in just six months. This novelty is now termed the game changer. In fact the experiment has now revealed that one in 200 drivers use their phone while driving in the UK.

Notwithstanding this finding, it is observed that the figure will be much higher if the cameras were deployed to monitor all lanes of traffic continuously. Meanwhile, if the cameras are legally approved, drivers face being sent notices of intended prosecution similar to speeding penalties which is enhanced by a proper national addressing system which we currently lack to ease enforcement.

If you are one of the freaks who delude themselves that there is no danger in indulging in this act while driving, remember that it is estimated that if a driver looks at their phone for two seconds travelling at 30kph, they will drive ‘blind’ for about 100ft.If you are curious please check my other write-ups online on distracted driving, where I captured the case of a young female graduate who was crushed to death by a distracted truck driver

Whether in Nigeria or some other climes yet to fully go digital, tracking offenders is problematic. As of today, offenders can only be caught when patrol teams are driving alongside them. This creates a bottleneck in effective enforcement as even when arrest is effected, there is the absence of needed evidence to aid smooth prosecution.

This is why this camera, which uses artificial intelligence to instantly analyze high definition photos taken through the windscreen of every passing vehicle, is, if you ask me, the answer to enforcement with ease. The cameras can be fitted to overhead gantries or portable trailers, taking images in all weathers and without blurring at speeds reaching over 170kmph.

Like I said earlier, what the current experiment has shown is that Artificial Intelligence can flag up recalcitrant drivers who are in abundance in our clime because of the perceived weak enforcement compounded by manual approaches as well as complicated because of the absence of a national addressing system. The UK trial, I learnt is part of a wider project to improve road safety intervention. Incidentally, besides capturing drivers phoning behind the wheels, the smart cameras are also capable of detecting if people are wearing seatbelts.

While we rethink this technology, we must also rethink the current fines regime in the UK which places a fine of £200 fine which is over a hundred thousand Naira and six points on their license. In Nigeria, the current fine for using the phone while driving is just four thousand Naira and carries four penalty points

Meanwhile, I must acknowledge the efforts of the FRSC to build robust data for national security. I also acknowledge the efforts by the Government to harmonize existing data across board which is the vehicle for effective and efficient enforcement. Despite these efforts, I however know that there are still challenges especially in developing climes such as ours. The challenge also includes ascertaining the level of infractions especially because of the difficulties in effective enforcement without appropriate technology.

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