I have heard of plugged in electrical gadgets and equipment, but it is now "plugged in humans" – wherever on goes, one sees men and women, girls and boys, all with wires dangling from their ears and fiddling with buttons on a mobile, and oblivious to the world around them. Listening to music presumably, while riding on a bus, which is okay I guess. Or while driving a two or four wheeler – not okay at all – studies have shown that being on the cell phone or listening to music through an ear phone causes distraction from the road and leads to accidents.
The papers carried a report last year about a woman who was run over by a train at a level crossing because she was listening to music on her mobile and didn’t hear the train hooting as it sped towards her. Technology kills? Sure, if it is misused, just as a gun kills if it is in the wrong hands. So why are so many educated, seemingly well-to-do citizens (well to do because they can afford fancy mobiles with fancy features) behaving like this, causing a threat to life and limb (their own and those of others)?
How often have you noticed two wheeler riders with their heads tilted to one side, a cell phone tucked and balanced between ear and shoulder blade, negotiating their way through dense traffic? It is illegal to use a cell phone while driving, but how many get caught, how many are responsible for the 6,000-odd non-fatal accidents caused in the city annually? On average, two persons die in fatal accidents each day. How many of these are due to the distraction caused by cell phones while driving? We do not have disaggregated statistics, and the traffic police cannot be everywhere, to catch these phone-linked offenders who pose a threat to other road users.
Autorickshaw drivers routinely pull out their mobiles, to answer calls. My warnings to them that they could be fined, are seldom heeded. I have even tried telling them that I am a police officer, but my grey hair gives the game away, so I now say I am a retired police officer – but who cares about retired officers anyway? Not even policemen…
I have seen BMTC bus drivers talking on their mobiles while driving through dense traffic. I have jotted down the vehicle and route numbers, with details of date and time – and next time plan to use my camera too, to grab evidence. A few policemen I spoke to in Jayanagar conceded that at busy intersections like the one facing the shopping complex, it is difficult to catch offenders or even note down their numbers, because of the nature of the traffic flow.
Fines amounting to 25-30 lakhs are collected each year, but the solution is not in penalising. What we need is better road discipline and some compulsory courses on driving ethics. I recall the day I was crossing a road when the green ‘walk’ signal was on, and a two-wheeler driver rammed into my leg as he tried to jump the red light. The police station is just down the road from the intersection and I demanded that he come with me, but he said, "Enu aagi illa, " (nothing has happened, meaning that I had not been knocked down or killed) so there was "no need". What was worse and more shocking, a couple of drivers who were at the intersection and saw me being hit, also chimed in saying "Aayithu, bidi, enu aagilla" (all right , let him go, nothing has happened) So one needs to take action only if someone dies? What are we coming to, in a city boasting about trying to be a "world class city"?
It is illegal to turn one’s face backwards to talk to one’s pillion rider while driving on the road. I have seen this many times. No one cares, or pulls these idiots up. Isn’t it idiotic to drive a vehicle with one’s face turned backwards? Again, we don’t have statistics on how many such idiots we have in the city, we only have figures for the numbers killed on the roads. How many of these are caused by drivers "multitasking" while on the road – listening to music, talking on the phone, chatting with someone at the back?
Perhaps it is time some neighbourhood groups undertook a movement for pulling up such erring drivers. Take down the numbers of vehicles with offenders at the wheel, or stop them and chastise them, perhaps even urge the RTO to arrange for sensitisation talks to potential license holders, so that they understand the gravity of their idiotic behaviour. Civic groups and volunteers can lend a hand – after all, it could be someone you know, getting killed by one of these drivers tomorrow.
Better not to wait till "something aguth-the" and one more fatality is added to the statistics. And if you are a guilty party yourself, think again before using your mobile next time you are on the road…