Drive or use phone – choose one!

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I experienced the worst cab ride a few days ago. During the whole ride, I was so anxious and felt threatened that I decided to walk instead, despite being nowhere near my destination. I couldn’t enjoy the ride precisely because the driver was watching a drama on his phone and kept glancing at it instead of focusing on the road. 

It was a short ride but long enough to convince me it’s better to get off and walk to the other side of the city at over 30 degrees Celsius or at least to the nearest bus stop. In less than 10 minutes, the driver stopped five or six times due to traffic but didn’t move the car even though the car in front had already driven out of sight. He unglued his eyes from his phone and started to drive only after being honked repeatedly by the cars behind us. This much I could bear with, but while driving at a high speed on a bridge, he could not keep his eyes away from his phone which was playing a predictable family drama. Because of this, he would have crashed into the car in front had I not screeched out in fear. 

In fear of my life, I politely asked him to pay attention to the road but he brushed me off saying it’s not a big deal and that he’s “focused enough”. I tried to stay calm until the ride was over. However, he kept driving on heavily-congested roads, which made me furious as I was in a hurry for an appointment and clearly told him so. The other routes definitely had less traffic and cars were zooming past. That’s when I thought the driver was either intentionally choosing congested roads to buy some time to watch his drama or simply made wrong choices because he was too distracted. Either way, I couldn’t bear the anxiety and frustration anymore that I decided to get out.

Since that incident, I have been noticing more people who are driving whilst using their phone. There are drivers who casually talk on their phone with one hand off the steering wheel, some who swiftly put their phone down when they see a police officer, people who replace their rear-view mirror with their phone and watched videos on it as they drive, and others who text or check their social media every time they stop in traffic.

This is a clear indication that Mongolians have grown more dependent and addicted to screens, such as smartphones and computers, but that is a topic for another time. The main issue I want to focus on in this article is the danger of using phones while driving.

Studies have proved that texting and other cellphone use while driving is becoming a life-threatening norm. Multitasking behind the wheel is similar to driving under the influence of alcohol as in both cases, the driver doesn’t have enough focus or mental capacity to carry out a potentially dangerous activity like driving.

The temptation to use a mobile phone is perhaps higher than ever, considering the wide range of applications that are now easily available on your mobile device and the resultant rise in notifications that pop up on your screen. Even the most cautious drivers can be distracted by a call or text. That split-second lapse in concentration while you check the notification could easily result in an accident. Coupled with inexperience and lack of driving skills, phone use can be especially deadly for new drivers.

Research shows driving while distracted can result in a wide range of errors, some of which may be fatal. These include:

  1. A lack of awareness of surrounding road users and potential hazards
  2. Failing to see road signs and warnings
  3. Struggling to maintain the recommended safe speed
  4. Failing to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front
  5. Poor lane discipline and switching lanes without indicating

Considering all of these risks, many countries and jurisdictions have made the use of using phone whilst driving illegal. For example, since March 2017, UK motorists who are caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving face six penalty points added to their license in addition to a fine of 200 GBP. This penalization was introduced to try to stem the increase in drivers ignoring the law. Japan also prohibits hand-held mobile phone or mobile device use while driving.

New Zealand has banned hand-held phone use since November 1, 2009. Many states in the USA have banned texting on cellphones while driving. Some states allow for drivers to use a cellphone mount but some states do not. Currently, 19 American states ban hand-held cellphone use, 38 states and Washington D.C. ban all cellphone use by novice and teen drivers, and 48 states ban text messaging by novice and teen drivers, according to statistics.

The Mongolian traffic law also prohibits drivers from using cellphones but countless people are ignoring this law and continue to stay distracted by their phone as they drive. Maybe making the law stricter and increasing the penalty like Japan might be a good option for preventing drivers from being tempted to check their notifications, send text messages and talk on their phone. Better enforcement of the law is also a quick solution.

Nevertheless, I’d like to stress that it is not the law or legal bodies that should make effort to stop distracted driving – drivers should be self-aware about the risks linked to using phone while driving. The fact that drivers are putting away their phone when they spot a traffic police officer nearby suggests they are aware it is illegal to use mobile devices behind the wheel. And yet, they forget about it as soon as the officer is out of sight.

“It’s common for drivers to use their cellphones and lose focus when they are stuck in traffic. We don’t have a detailed report on accidents and offences caused by the act of using mobile devices while driving yet,” said B.Lkhagvajargal, a senior specialist of the Prevention Unit of the Traffic Police Department. However, he stated more than half of traffic accidents that occurred last year due to lack of attention were connected to the use of cellphone behind the steering wheel. He urged drivers to stop using phones while driving, stay focused and drive safe.

“It depends on the person. Some people drive while scrolling through Facebook and some don’t. From what I see, five out of 10 drivers use their phone while driving. I haven’t done this myself or faced any penalty, but I will keep it in mind in the future,” said D.Ariunsukh, a random driver.

Another driver said, “It’s wrong for drivers to use their phone while participating in traffic movement. Not only drivers but also many pedestrians cross the road as they fidget on their phone or while wearing earphones. I want to encourage other drivers and pedestrians to pay more attention to traffic movement.”

Stopping your cellphone use behind the wheel will keep you at a safe distance from accidents. One cannot focus fully on the road and other moving vehicles, if one keeps talking on phone while driving. To avoid potential health risks and accidents, all drivers must follow the traffic law and get rid of their bad habit of reaching out to their phone whenever they’re stuck in traffic. If you just can’t stop giving in to the temptation to use your mobile device, there’s always the option to pull over to the curb of the road.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan