By Kavitha Srinivasa
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road crashes kill 1.2 million people and seriously injure or permanently disable another 50 million every year. Over the last decade, road crash has become the ninth leading cause of death in the world and is predicted to rise to the seventh position by 2030. Every hour, 16 lives are lost to road crashes in India – the highest in the world. In the last decade alone, India lost 1.3 million people to road crashes and another 5.3 million were seriously injured or disabled for life.
Distracted driving is defined as any activity that diverts a person’s attention from their primary task of driving. These types of activities include the usage of a mobile phone, eating, and drinking, conversation with co-passengers, self-grooming, reading or watching videos, adjusting the radio or music player and even using a GPS system for navigating locations. Amongst these, mobile phone usage is said to be the most distracting factor. The use of mobile phones while driving causes four types of mutually non-exclusive distractions that include the visual, auditory, cognitive and manual/physical. While visual distractions cause drivers to look away from the roadway, manual distractions require the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel, auditory distractions mask those sounds that are crucial for the driver to hear while driving and cognitive ones induce the driver to think about something other than driving. It has been established that distraction caused by mobile phone usage while driving, can deprecate driving performance, for instance increasing reaction time and increasing frequency of lane change. Distractions while driving has now joined alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. Distracted drivers are about four times as likely to be involved in crashes as those who are focused on driving.
The Government of India in a 2015 report revealed that “2,270” people were killed in “8,359” crashes due to ‘driver’s inattentiveness’. But, there is no subset of this data that points out as to the exact number out of these 8,359 crashes which were caused as a result of mobile phone usage. On the other hand, understanding the growing threat that mobile phone usage during driving possesses, countries like the USA have been capturing data at the crash site.
SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF) an independent, non-profit non-governmental organization committed to improving road safety and emergency care across India and Vodafone India Limited have entered into a corporate social responsibility (CSR) partnership to address the issue of distracted driving. The focal point of the undertaking is the distraction caused by mobile phones. They have launched a road safety app on April 28, 2017, which is earmarked as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
The survey titled ‘Distracted Driving in India, A Study on Mobile Phone, Usage, Pattern & Behaviour’, was commissioned to TNS India Private Limited (Kantar Public India). The survey was conducted in August-September 2016 mapping 1,749 people of which 45% are using feature phones, 10% are using smartphones without any mobile internet connection and remaining 45% are using smartphones with the internet. The survey was conducted across Delhi, Chennai, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Kanpur, Mumbai and Kolkata. Within each city, four categories of drivers were surveyed, viz. two-wheeler drivers, four-wheeler drivers, truck/bus drivers and auto-rickshaw drivers. The survey had four broad sections: demography, the extent of mobile phone use, the effect of mobile phone use on road user behaviour and perception of mobile phone use by road users.
Broad findings of the survey indicate that 47% people receive calls on their mobile phone while driving, 94% people believe that use of mobile phones while driving is dangerous, 96% people feel unsafe as passengers if the driver was using a mobile phone while driving and 41% people use phones for work-related purposes while driving. 60% people do not stop at a safe location before answering calls, 68% people support the use of enforcement cameras to apprehend drivers using mobile phones while driving, 20% people have had a near-miss or a crash due to use of mobile phone while driving and 34% people tend to apply sudden brakes when talking on the phone while driving.
The Vodafone-SaveLIFE Foundation Road Safe partnership has tried to address the issue of distracted driving caused by mobile phone usage through a mobile app itself. The idea is to apply control mechanisms at source. This explains how the app has been built to take into account all four dimensions of distraction — visual, auditory, manual and cognitive. The application gets activated once the vehicle exceeds the speed of 10km/hr and eliminates distractions such as incoming calls, SMSs, notifications from other apps and also places an overlay on the screen that prevents users from browsing the mobile phone. Once the user returns to a speed below 10 km/hour, s/he can view all calls/messages/notifications received while driving. In case of Android phones, the notification tray is frozen.
The app is able to detect situations where the user may require immediate medical assistance such as a crash. In case there is an accident, the phone sends a voice pop-up, which asks the user to say Yes or No for medical emergency care or police and initiates contact accordingly. Apart from that, there is also an ‘In Case’ emergency button which allows users to find the closest hospital and directions to the hospitals with a click of a button. The other features include road safety tips, a state-wise list of traffic fines etc. The app also provides information for bystanders on how to help an injured person and the rights of a Good Samaritan.
The element of communication is the third dimension of the partnership. The Vodafone-SaveLIFE Foundation Road Safe partnership has developed a one-minute film to showcase the dangers of distracted driving. A message will be conveyed that there’s a tool to avoid mobile related distractions while traveling on the road. The film will be first aired in Karnataka around June-July 2017 before spreading out to other states. The reason for selecting Karnataka to kick-start the campaign is that among all the cities surveyed, 7 out of 10 respondents (70%) in Bengaluru receive a call and more than 6 out of 10 make a call (65%). Around 44% respondents in Bengaluru use social media while driving, which is higher than other cities under this study. This is synchronous with the fact that Bengaluru has the highest proportion of respondents who use smartphones with internet connectivity.
Here’s an app that allows the user to go distraction-free for an increased focus on driving. In times to follow, let us hope that initiatives like these push distracted driving to become a thing of the past.