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The New Killer - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Last week, two conferences – one in Washington and the other in London – attendant by experts and specialists in the fields of safety and security, as well as officials and policemen were held to discuss how to confront a killer that is responsible for thousands of deaths, especially amongst young people, although it also affects other age groups. What is strange is that we assist this killer, to the extent that we provide the conditions for the crime to occur, even if the victims are sometimes the people closest to us.

Prior to the two conferences, reports and statistics indicated that new technologies and a lack of attention are behind the alarming rise in the number of victims of this new killer on the roads, and that there is a need to enact more laws in order to confront it. This new killer is the mobile phone, and products associated with it.

It is true that the mobile phone has become a defining feature of the current era, although scientific studies remain conflicted with regards to the direct health risks to mobile phone users. Mobile phones have become a “necessity”, whether this is for business and work, communication, checking up on children if they are away from home, or requesting rescue or assistance in the event of an emergency, or even if one is lost. However like any other technology, its uses must be observed and monitored in order to ensure that people are not harmed by any negative aspects.

In London, those attending “The Safety 2010 World Conference” heard reports that revealed that using a mobile phone whilst driving a car – or even crossing the street as a pedestrian – makes one more likely to be involved in an accident, some which are fatal. The same applies to the use of portable media players like the iPod which distracts the attention of the user and prevents him from hearing the sound of the traffic around them. The proportion of people between the ages of 16 and 19 who die in traffic accidents in Britain has increased by 16 percent compared to 15 years ago. The reason for many of these accidents is a lack of concentration as a result of the driver speaking on a mobile telephone or sending and receiving text messages whilst driving the car.

As for the Washington conference, officials from the Obama administration participated in the second summit devoted to discussing the issue of road safety and the phenomenon of distracted driving, highlighting the significant increase in the number of road accents and deaths associated with using mobile phones. Statistics show that 5,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in America last year that were caused by ‘distracted driving” as a result of talking on a mobile phone or sending or receiving text messages while driving. Despite the fact that 30 US states – in addition to Washington – have laws that ban drivers from text messaging while driving, and 8 states ban drivers from using hand-held mobile phones, 81 percent of Americans said in various public opinion polls that they had used mobile phones whilst driving a car. What was even more striking is that 84 per cent of those who had been surveyed acknowledged that the use of mobile phone while driving increases the risk of accidents. This is something that confirms that we have become totally dependent on our mobile phones, and we cannot resist using them, even when we understand the risks.

Reckless driving is a terrifying issue, however when this is compounded by the use of a mobile phone, it goes from being terrifying to suicidal, especially as many people think of themselves as being good drivers and therefore capable of concentrating on the road whilst using a mobile phone. However if you are one of those who believes this, here is what scientific studies reveal: the use of a mobile phone whilst driving, even if the driver is using the Bluetooth hands-free system [and both his hands are on the driving wheel] is still a cause of distraction, affecting the drivers ability to control the car and sense what is happening around him. When the human brain is performing two distinct tasks at one time, it performs both to a lower standard than it would if it was only dealing with one task, therefore when one uses a mobile phone whilst driving – whether this is conducting a phone call or text messaging – the brain’s capacity is divided between the mobile phone and dealing with the changing traffic conditions. In addition to this, drivers using mobile phones are forced to direct their attention away from the road for a few seconds, for example, if they receive a telephone call, for they must first check the identity of the caller, before pressing a button to accept or reject this call. What about if the driver is going to make a call? He must dial a series of numbers in order to make a call which will distract his attention from the road for a longer period of time; this distraction is even greater if the driver wants to read or send a text message. With every second that the driver’s attention is diverted from the road, the risk of committing a traffic accident increases by four times.

The problem is that with advances in technology, and a highly competitive market, car companies are installing complex systems for navigation and in-car entertainment system. These include means of connecting mobile phones, iPods, and iPads to the car dashboard, and even providing wireless internet access. This means that there is even more driving distractions, increasing the risk of accidents. Experts say that there is a need to tighten laws, and this is an approach that would receive a favorable response in numerous countries. More importantly, in my opinion, an approach such as this would raise people’s awareness and responsibility for their own lives and the lives of others. This is especially important with regards to young people, as their mortality rate has risen as a result of this new killer.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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