x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Distracted driving is a deadly habit

For all the horrific imagery of mangled metal and bloody asphalt, not a day goes by that we don't see motorists thumbing away on their phones, recklessly careening along towards their destination.

It takes an average of 4.6 seconds to send or receive an SMS, enough time for a vehicle moving 90 kilometres per hour to travel about a 100 metres. When the person doing the messaging is the one behind the wheel, it means that every text he sends originates from a vehicle speeding along a football pitch-sized stretch of the road - with no one, effectively, at the wheel.

Much can happen over 100 metres of highway - sudden traffic jams, darting pedestrians, stray cats or broken-down vehicles. Federal law prohibits distracted driving to defend against these very obstacles, and motorists who flout the law are subject to a Dh200 fine.

And yet, for all the horrific imagery of mangled metal and bloody asphalt, not a day goes by that we don't observe one of our fellow motorists thumbing away, eyes in their laps, recklessly careening along towards their destination. The majority of drivers are guilty of distracted driving at some point; over 60 per cent of drivers surveyed in one recent poll admitted to using their mobile phones while they drive.

For the most part, we rely on police and transit authorities to keep us safe. There is evidence that drivers who can't be pried from their devices are paying for their choices. In 2011, nearly 60,000 fines were issued to drivers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But some motorists are still, inexplicably, ignoring the message that texting while driving can be fatal.

On Friday, we reported on a public bus driver - responsible for the lives of dozens of passengers - steering his vehicle from Abu Dhabi to Dubai with his elbows as he punched away at his phone with his thumbs. An astute (and, we assume, nervous) passenger photographed the reckless behaviour. The Roads and Transport Authority driver has reportedly been disciplined, but his disregard for the safety of others makes us wonder how widespread the habit is among other drivers of public buses, taxis and lorries.

Talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device, lowers reaction time significantly. Add messaging to the mix and it's akin to wearing a blindfold behind the wheel. Last year, when BlackBerry's messaging service went silent for three days because of a technical glitch, lives were saved because the phones were put away.

That's one message that still needs to be received.