Car phone
Using phones while driving is illegal in most countries. Offenders in the UAE are fined Dh800 and are docked four black points. Image Credit: Pixabay

I escaped a car crash the other day. Well, it wasn’t my fault. Yet, it nearly blotted my record of no road accidents for around 15 years. I think the mobile phone was the culprit.

A pickup truck on my right swerved into me while motoring down E311 in the morning at around 100 km/h. Instinctively, I swung the car to the left. Fortunately, the lane was empty. Otherwise, my car would have been in the path of speeding vehicles.

What caused the motorist to come at me, I wondered? My guess is that the driver was checking his phone. I didn’t try to confirm it, as I was keen on moving away from the pickup.

Tell-tale signs of a distracted driver

How can I assume? That’s because I regularly see motorists on phones while driving. Some even text, and that beggars belief.

Why do people use mobile phones while driving? I had written about it as I fear being hit by a motorist distracted by the phone. I can easily spot a distracted driver. Meandering from one lane to another, inability to keep pace with the traffic and failure to move swiftly when the traffic lights turn green are among the tell-tale signs.

I don’t use the phone while driving. To attend an urgent call, I use the car’s Bluetooth handsfree device; I generally keep the conversation short. Because handsfree devices are not totally safe, phone conservations can affect concentration, leading to poor driving.

Mobile phone use and road deaths

I have seen people wildly gesticulating while talking on the phone. Rising anger can be so distracting that drivers can stray from the lane or accelerate without factoring in the traffic around them — both can lead to crashes.

In the UAE, one out of every three motorists use mobile phones while driving, according to a survey commissioned by RoadSafetyUAE and Al Wathba Insurance. The study of 1,001 individuals in January said drivers are routinely on phones despite being aware of the dangers. A majority of them also admitted to distracted driving.

This is irresponsible behaviour. No amount of awareness campaigns can rectify it. A distracted motorist deliberately puts his life and others’ lives in danger.

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In 2022, 85 road deaths in the UAE were attributed to distracted driving, according to data from the Ministry of Interior. Six people were killed in 99 accidents over eight months in Dubai due to phone usage while driving, police said, adding that 35,527 violations were recorded.

Radars and surveillance cameras can detect motorists using phones, and artificial intelligence has strengthened the police’s hand. The offence is punishable with a Dh800 fine and four black points, but surveillance and fines haven’t dissuaded motorists, who continue to browse and text while driving.

A human life is worth much more than the fine. It’s priceless. So the next time you pick up the phone when you are at the wheel, remember that it could kill you. A road death is a numbing statistic. You don’t want to be one.