FRSC, stiffer penalty and road-safety attitude
The Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, (FRSC) Boboye Oyeyemi’s hint the other day that the agency was consideringa stiffer penalty for those who use their phones while driving, appears trivial but it should be seen as a significant development in our quest to form a national culture. The nation is still smarting from a crisis of character on so many fronts – including politics, business and ethics.
The proposal (stiffer penalty), though, seemingly extreme, should be seen as a response to the alarming rate of fatal accidents caused mainly by distracted drivers speaking on the phone while driving. While the proposal is understandable, this newspaper supports consideration of more stringent sanctions, in the circumstances. As air safety is generally believed to be the most regulated on earth, serious governments should also not trifle with road safety, especially since road transportation is still the most patronised in our country.
At the same time, while the FRSC is considering a stiffer penalty, it should not lose sight of an important aspect of the fundamental objective for setting up the agency: the need for advocacy and public enlightenment about road-safety consciousness in our public life.
There are three stated factors that cause accidents on roads; the vehicle, the road and the driver. Of the three, the human being is the major element. If he or she is alert and obeys safe driving principles, the other two factors are nullified. These principles are taught to all learner-drivers.
In driving schools approved by the FRSC, learners are taught the basic elements for safe driving. The person behind the wheels is taught to always get “the total picture” by keeping his attention on what goes on in his vehicle’s instrument panel, front, rear and sides. These demands are sufficient to ensure concentration on the serious work of controlling a moving vehicle. An accident occurs in a split second, mostly by human error. Any distraction in attention is a potential cause for road accident.
The Corps Marshall has now informed the public that a major distraction is the use of mobile phones while driving. Whether the phone is put on a speaker or hand-held (which is a greater risk), the mind is located on the matter of the phone conversation. Studies in selective perception revealed that a person may be gazing at an object or scene without the picture registering in his mind when that is focused elsewhere. It is no wonder that many major and minor accidents have been caused by the use of mobile phones.
The Federal Road Safety Commission, operating as Federal Road Safety Corps, commenced its work by a campaign aimed at attitudinal changes; especially to eliminate the delusion by many individual Nigerians that “accidents can’t happen to me.”In 1988, there were radio jingles “You’ve heard about AIDS but not RAIDS: Road Accident Immunity Deficiency Syndrome.” The Wole Soyinka led Governing Council, with the first Corps Marshall Olu Agunloye; spread the message all over the country, with the meager resources available at the time.
Now that offspring of the creators and pioneers’ ‘offspring’ run the agency, they should go back to the founding principles which emphasized Advocacy and Public Enlightenment. Sadly, over the years, revenue generation seems to have taken the steam out of the directive principle that led to its establishment. Now we hear of an operative attitude of “we shall find a reason to charge you.” This newspaper will continue to believe that revenue drive should not override governance issues, in this regard.
It is understandable that the agency’s efforts at attitudinal change have met a brick-wall; hence the call for higher monetary fines of up to 50,000.00 or 100,000.00. Although offenders are in all classes of society; the power elite who are supposed to be the road-safety- campaigns brand ambassadors as ‘special marshals’ are the worst culprits. However, the FRSC needs to show that its patrol officials still follow the founding principles which stipulate enlightenment as first approach that would hopefully elicit remorse and end with a respectful “go thou and sin no more”or booking for a recalcitrant offender.
It is a paradox of development that the mobile phone is another example of man’s positive or negative use of every technological invention. The atomic bomb stands out as a glaring example. Nuclear energy was misused by man in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the World War II, before the same energy was harnessed for generating electricity. The mobile phone has improved many areas of human activity, at the heart of which is communications, anywhere you are and anywhere you go. However, there is a catalogue of negative effects. People have become so attached to the mobile phone that even when they forget it at home or lose it, they are completely destabilised and disoriented.
Meanwhile, the information by Oyeyemi that more than 74 operatives of the Commission were killed on duty last year is shocking to say the least. More devastating is another report that the nationwide patrols during the 2018 Salah holidays, revealed that more than 30 per cent of articulated vehicle drivers have impaired vision to such an extent that they do not see at night. Certainly these are killers on the road.
In some countries, based on their experiences of mobile phones causing accidents, a culprit is considered an accessory to murder because his thoughtless behaviour has a high probability of causing fatal accidents. That is the part of the reasons in some jurisdictions, offenders are remanded in prisons before being banned from driving for six months or even a whole year, as part of punitive measures.
So, while the proposed stiffer sanctions deal with the use of mobile phones, there is a need for a complete overhaul of the process for obtaining driver’s licence and the elimination of touts in the mix. Given the grave consequences of this infraction, the proposal by the Corps Marshall for higher fines is not sufficient. Any new regime must go as far as including seizure of the telephone sets on the spot and warehousing it for a stated period of time too. On the whole, while a proposal to impose a stiffer penalty is not a frivolous idea, the prime place of advocacy and public enlightenment should not be relegated, in this connection. There should be remarkable investment in civic education in this age of the multimedia platforms.
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