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Thursday, January 27, 2011

India speaking - on roads and at cross roads

Onion prices might spiral.  Gold may touch new high.  Share prices might rally but there is one market which is steadily increasing.  You can find them in every street corner – the new Cell Zone – a local shop selling mobile phones and accessories. 

It seems that people are buying new mobiles on all occasions – whether festive or not – not only new, people keep upgrading – every one talks about features – whether really needed and whether such features are really used are best known to the buyers !!  There are service providers in buckets – BSNL, Airtel, Aircell, MTNL, BPL, Videocon, Vodafone, Idea, Space, Uninor, Tata, Virgin – the list appears endless.  Added to the confusion are the Chinese, Korean, Taiwan and little known country made sleek ones challenging the glitzy ones. The Whole Nation seems to relish speaking. 

Prior to 2 decades from now, we had only landlines which were location specific as opposed to the person specific mobiles – electronic devices that allow two way communication based on cellular network of base stations.  These Global System of mobile communications (GSM) have an international standard.  In some parts of the World, the only type of cellular is GSM which uses digital system using TDMA technology.  These are primarily 2G utilizing networks for transmitting information which are – Frequency division multiple access, time division multiple access and code division multiple access.   In India also in some parts of the World, we have CDMA mobiles also.  Then there is 3G of which much more (scam) is on air in the recent times.

Technology is to be appreciated but how suddenly the Nation has found the need to communicate all the time – you see people shouting at the peak of their voice in the early morning in street corners, in market places, in buses, in trains and everywhere. The problem gets confounded for they are talking when walking, crossing, cycling, driving two, three, four or more wheelers – unmindful of anything or anybody else on the World. 

The Indian telecommunications industry is the world’s fastest growing telecommunications industry.  By some estimates, there are close to 750 million telephone subscribers and 700 million mobile connections.  The Indian mobile subscriber base has increased in size by a factor of more than 100 since 2001.  In the coming years, this is bound to grow more.  Whilst it is good looking at the direct and indirect employment and the revenue generation, there are many harmful effects as well. 
mobile speakers collaged from Dinamalar

The Indian democracy unfortunately has the habit of not adhering to rules unless there is strict penalty.  In the Chennai city, you can see this for yourself.  Stand in a busy corner – you will see bustling two wheelers, the unpredictable autos, buses and trucks – so many in number – most of them bending their neck, holding the mobile between their shoulder and bent head and talking. Just as you feel cursing them, you see bunch of walkers, laughing merrily as they talk to someone on their cell and they don’t stop even when crossing the road. How and why suddenly they have become so interested in music, that they have the ears plugged on all the time – when on road or off it.    When will they realize that they are imperilling their lives and that of others and contribute to road accidents.  Worst is the case at Railway crossing – there are reports of people losing their lives when trying to cross the track, they were oblivious of the train as they were busy talking or hearing to music.  Train is supposed to run in its track and is that to be blamed for loss of life ?    Why the Nation is suddenly existing in a mental state where they cannot exist without  a mobile.

Then there is the menace of texting. The younger generation lives on texting – sending SMS in dozens, nay hundreds.  They skillfully manipulate, compose, send or read messages or e mail when on road.  When one turns around in any traffic hold either at a  signal or a traffic snarl, one is certain to notice impatient youngsters pulling out their mobiles to check whether they have received any message.  Please don’t relate this to the speed with which people respond to official e mails……..  Research in Western countries have revealed that texting while driving leads to increased distraction behind the wheel.  

Whilst nothing will change here, it was in some ways satisfying to note of a  rule in USA prohibiting commercial bus and truck drivers from texting while operating commercial motor vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), the agency of the Department of Transportation had promulgated the no-texting rule effective Oct 2010 and had made further inroads by considering a proposed rule prohibiting  commercial truck and bus drivers from holding, reaching for, or dialing their cell phones while driving. Drivers who violate the rule would be subject to a penalty of up to $2,750 for each offense, and drivers could have their commercial driver’s licenses revoked for multiple offenses. Employers that allow or require their drivers to use cell phones while driving would be subject to a penalty of up to $11,000. An estimated 4 million commercial drivers are expected to be affected by the proposed rule.

This rule effectively bans hand held devices and does not extend to hands free.  It is reported that FMCSA has  requested comments from the public on “the feasibility, operational impact, and safety benefits of prohibiting hands-free mobile telephone technology” by commercial truck and bus drivers.  In US they have what is known as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations Comprehensive Safety Analysis which throws up such provisions in the safety of road users.  They are keen to make their roadways less dangerous by keeping those roadusers fully attentive to the road.  To them the second the focus gets shifted away from the road, there is potential of an accident.  Presently the roll out is more for the commercial road users, perhaps wisdom might dawn to extend it for the other category of road users as well.   

States have responsibility of keeping their roadways accident free.  Drunken driving is an offence and so should be tampering with a mobile device whilst  driving.   They have understood that drivers who tried reaching to an object when driving were more likely to be involved in accident.  

Some of the tips of the US Dept of transportation  are extremely meaningful and easy to follow :

1)     Do not fixate on non-driving related objects when driving.   Keep your mind engaged with driving related information and do not focus on external objects such as bill boards or buildings.
We see so many getting distracted by the posters and other things on road side.
2)     Avoid smoking while driving – it would require removing one or both the hands from the steering wheel to light a cigar and hold it.
We regularly see the menace of people putting out the cigarette butts or pushing off the ash from a moving vehicle, unmindful of the those following on road.
3)     Turn off your cell phone while driving.  There they say that if you have to use, pull of the road and keep your conversation short.
They are contemplating scenario in a highway, where there is ample way on the side.  Not on the narrow roads where everyone is driving at breakneck speed, busy all the time and have to imperatively talk for hours.
4)     Minimise eating and drinking while driving  - this is not only messy but more dangerous as it creates a physical and visual distraction to drivers, requiring removal of one or both the hands from the steering wheel juggling food or beverage.  

There are some countries where  using either a hand-held or hands-free phone while driving is illegal – they are Israel, Japan, Singapore, some states of US.  Some have more stringent rules for school bus drivers.  Safety is of prime concern – but in Chennai city most children travel in so called school vans – mostly private, rickety, drivers with minimum education and scant regard to rules, talking on mobile and parents also calling to enquire…..

When will people learn from other’s experience and keep others in safety ?

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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