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Safety on the road

by Nekaelia Hutchinson

ictincargpsNowadays, a cell phone has become a constant companion. And, every time it beeps, pings or rings, owners believe they must answer the call, whether at home, at work or on the road.

The distraction of a cell phone while driving, however, may lead to some very close calls — or may even turn out to be the last call you ever make.

The truth about information and communication technology and the threat it creates when it meets the streets were highlighted today, World Telecommunications and Information Society Day.

Discussing this year’s theme, ICTs and Improving Road Safety, in a recent interview, Deputy Chief of the Telecommunications Unit, Clifford Bostic, explained that his department, as a member of the International Telecommunications Union, wanted to increase “awareness in terms of things not to do: driving and texting, driving and tweeting, driving and looking at Facebook .., email as well as answering the phones”.

“ICTs are well used in vehicles today… [They] allow drivers to see what’s going on around them and inside the vehicle, to navigate into unknown territory… To figure out where there are traffic jams and how to avoid them…, but if not used properly, these things become distractions and as a result, people can become endangered,” he said.

However, the deputy chief observed that this was not limited to drivers and pointed out that “pedestrians sometimes are using the roads and they’re not aware of what’s around them because they are distracted by telephones, laptops, iPads, tablets”.

Even with these drawbacks considered, there are many benefits which technology contributed to the driving experience and road safety. Bostic offered the example of radar systems, noting, “you may be reversing out of your driveway and a child is walking behind you … [but] you cannot see that child”.

“Your radar will pick up that there’s an object there … and some vehicles will stop, [and] apply brakes to save that child’s life,” he explained.

However, the official also stressed that it was crucial for drivers to be familiar with these technologies, so they could be used at their optimum and help, not hinder, the driving experience.

He added that the motor vehicle industry in Barbados was crucial to facilitating this process and boosting awareness, and providers should ensure that their public was well informed.

While acknowledging that the Telecoms Unit did not have statistics to indicate how many road injuries or deaths were associated with technological distraction, Bostic admitted that the practice of texting and using “tech” devices while driving was prevalent on our roads; and with global road fatality figures already at 1.3 million per year, technological distraction would further tip this figure into epidemic proportions.

He also underlined that “whereas persons could multi-task in an office setting, “when you’re driving, because you’re travelling at let’s say 30 km per hour, when you glance away for one second, you’ve travelled a considerable distance [in that time]”, which could result in a collision with another vehicle, object or person. “You cannot take your attention away from driving for one second,” Bostic stressed. “We have to take the hard road on this, we have to realise that because you’re moving at a particular distance per unit of time … and the distance is very long when you think of it in terms of seconds, you have to decide that I will not text, I will not take up a cell phone and text … or tweet or answer an email or read an email.

“You have to build that into the psyche, ‘that’s not something that I will do’.” While noting that hands-free devices could help reduce the level of distraction, Bostic encouraged persons to pull off to the side of the road if it becomes absolutely necessary to respond to a call or text.

Speaking specifically about his unit’s focus, the organisation’s deputy revealed that one of its roles was ensuring that the frequency spectrum, which ICTs use to send and receive signals, was well monitored and controlled.

“Our work will focus on some of the newer technologies that are coming about. For example, … the radar systems…, so that vehicles, once they come with these [systems] enabled they will be able to use them in Barbados… Our long-term project … [is] making sure that the frequency bands that are required for automobiles … are kept clear… We will also be continuing our work with the ITU …. to ensure that we are up to standard,” he said.

The United Nations declared 2011-2020 the Decade of Action on Road Safety.

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