In December 2013 the government banned night travel following two fatal accidents that saw tens of passengers perish in long-haul buses at night. Discussions by experts and drivers during the period indicated that most night drivers always drive when tired and sleepy. The affected drivers are said to most of the time be on duty between 36 and 48 hours before having a rest.
A friend of mine who is against the ban is of the opinion that most accidents actually happen during the day. According to him, night drivers do not practice careless driving like texting or talking on phone while driving. “Cases of overlapping, speeding, and general disregard of traffic laws are very rare at night”, he said.
His statement is supported by a report posted in May 2013 by Road Safety Network Kenya which gives a figure of 66% as the percentage of all accidents that happen during the day. Of all accidents that take place, 85% are caused by human factors. Top on human factors would be drunk driving and that’s why the government recently launched a massive campaign against drunk driving by requiring drivers to blow into the alcoblow. Statistics from US indicate that 23% of road accidents in that country are as a result of texting while driving; I’ve not been able to lay hands on statistics showing how texting while driving or even mobile phone use in general contribute to Kenya’s road accidents.
Even without concrete data on the rate of road accidents caused by use of mobile phones while driving in Kenya, it is a matter of fact that phone use by drivers on our roads is quite common; a habit that by itself is extremely fatal. Use of mobile phones while driving has prompted Dr. Charles Pless and Dr. Barry Pless to write an editorial in British Medical Journal on the need to legally implement technologies that will deter drivers from texting while driving.
Dr. Barry and his son, Dr. Charles, argued that the major tools for preventing road carnage caused by human error as inadequate. On Education as a solution to road accidents caused by carelessness, the two opined, “even if we had solid evidence that counseling [as a form of education] about the dangers of distracted driving was effective, it is unlikely that it would reach those at highest risk”. The other tool that has been used in several jurisdictions the world over is legislation. Dr. Barry and son however said that “legislation…seems promising, but…evidence [shows it has been] inconsistent”.”Some studies show that laws prohibiting mobile phones while driving result in reduced phone use but not necessarily in fewer crashes or injuries; some show both and some show neither”, they wrote.
So, since according to Barry and son Educating people on dangers of mobile phone use while driving or enacting legislation against the same haven’t been of much help, what is the way out? Technology is the solution. They write, ” the most promising solution to distracted driving caused by the mobile phone may well be more technology”; and they go ahead to list some of the technologies that if enforced, might come in handy in preventing road accidents caused by human factors.
They state of the need to have “software that prevents texting while driving set as a factory default”, “automatic messages informing callers that the recipient is driving”, “a sensor such as a signal jamming key that prevents mobile phone reception when the ignition is engaged e.g. http://key2safedriving.com“, “software to detect that a mobile phone is in a moving car e.g. www.aegismobility.com“, and the need of “technical solution…that blocks texting and conversations by drivers while permitting passengers to use their phones as they wish”. Here again legislation is needed, they say, to ensure that existing technologies that prevent drivers from using their mobile phones while driving are installed in all vehicles. They conclude as follows:
In most countries, impaired driving is a criminal offence and there is a strong social taboo against drinking and driving. Unfortunately, there was a long delay between the first scientific evidence and the public’s recognition that drunk driving is unacceptable. We cannot accept such a long process in the case of distracted driving. The stakes are too high.
In their list of recommended technologies I suggest addition of tech gadgets that prevent vehicle ignition or movement unless safety belts are fastened, and development of a software/apps that work in conjunction with Google Maps, cameras, and GPS to alert drivers of bends, steeps, junctions bumps, round-about etc minutes to meeting them as a significant number of accidents are caused by drivers not being familiar with the roads they are driving on.
In the same breath it would be appropriate for someone to develop a tech product that “smells the driver” such that if the driver is intoxicated, then the car won’t ignite or move. Already there is on-going work to develop brainwave based password for drivers to prevent car-jacking so developing a technique for “smelling drivers” won’t be a hard nut to crack for inventors and innovators. Such a technology will save our traffic policemen from requiring drivers to blow the alcoblows – gadgets of which appear to be very unhygienic.
If these and other technologies are not only recommended to drivers but made mandatory by legislation, then there won’t be a need to ban night travel – or let us just adopt the driverless cars that have been proven to cause no accidents. The few accidents the self-driving cars by Google have been involved in have also been caused by careless human drivers in other cars.