More drivers caught on cellphones

2011-07-23 00:00

RAPIDLY shifting glances from the road to a little screen clutched in one hand conspicuously hidden beneath the steering wheel seems like no great health threat.

But using a cellphone while driving is both dangerous and illegal.

About 30 people a month are fined by the Msunduzi Municipality’s traffic department for driving while using their cellphones.

As of yesterday afternoon, the municipality had fined 182 people since the beginning of the year, said municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma. Last year’s figure was 339 fines.

There are currently no statistics in the country for the number of accidents caused by distracted driving or specifically using a cellphone.

But the problem is a “worrying factor”, says KZN traffic department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane.

He could not reveal the number of fines issued provincially, as they do not have those figures.

The Automobile Association (AA) public affairs manager Gary Ronald said data are not available for accidents caused by people on cellphones as “very few people would admit to it because it is illegal”.

Last year though, the AA conducted an observational survey of 2 500 cars during peak traffic in Johannesburg. Of those observed 7,2% of drivers were using their cellphones.

Speaking on a cellphone without a hands-free kit is illegal but even with both hands on the wheel the dangers are present. Using a hands-free kit is still considered distracted driving, according to the Arrive Alive website.

But it is safer still to have a few boozy topples and navigate the roads, than doing so with phone in hand, Ronald said.

According to a study issued by American insurance firm State Farm, texting while driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

Ronald said it’s an issue of concentration as people tend to concentrate solely on the road while drunk, whereas a cellphone, reading from it, typing on it or even talking on it involves a great deal of interaction, diminishing concentration on the road.

ER 24 spokesperson Andre Visser issued a press release warning people of the dangers of texting and driving.

Citing a National Highway Traffic administration study in America in 2009, 20% of vehicle accidents resulting in injuries are due to distracted driving, with fatalities as high as 18%.

October is transport month and using a cellphone while driving is something the traffic department will be “aggressively focusing on”, says Ncalane.

So it is best to think twice before updating Facebook in the car.







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