Now that the law banning the use of mobile phones while driving has come into effect, the Barbados Road Safety Association (BRSA) plans to step up its fight against heavily tinted windows which could shield drivers who violate the ban.
BRSA President Sharmane Roland-Bowen has welcomed the implementation of the section of the Road Safety Amendment Act, which prohibits any person driving a vehicle while at the same time holding, manipulating, talking on or using a cellular phone.
Anyone found guilty of violating this provision faces a $2,000 fine, 18 months in jail, or both.
The measure, which took effect Wednesday, received the support of Barbadians who are concerned about the number of accidents on the island’s roads.
“This has been long in coming and such a move can really reduce the number of accidents we have been having on our roads in the recent years . . . I see this as a big part of the solution to reducing accidents,” Roland-Bowen told Barbados TODAY.
“We are happy for something like this because clearly too many accidents are on our roads, and each and every accident there is we know there is a cost . . . and then we might have injuries involved. So we should see, as long as people are compliant, we should see a reduction in the number of collision we are having.”
Roland-Bowen contended that the leading cause of those accidents was “inattention and attention diverted”, a suggestion that drivers’ attention was being distracted.
And while she made it clear that the use of hand-held mobile phones was not the only distraction, “the focus on the cell phones is that it has all kinds of distraction in one – you take your eyes off the road, there is the audio where you have to listen, then the physical one where you have to hold the phone in your hand and the cognitive one which is the most serious of them all where you take your mind off the road and what you are doing and you have minor errors and near missies or near hits”.
Last year was one of the deadliest years on record on the island’s roads with 28 fatalities from 25 road accidents, compared to ten road deaths the previous year. Already there are three road deaths this year.
While it is not known how many of those accidents might have been the result of distractions from mobile phone use, the Barbados Fire Service reported towards the end of last year that it had responded to 93 motor vehicle accidents, compared to 76 in 2016, and that most of the accidents were as a result of people losing control of their vehicle.
Roland-Bowen said the next step should be to enforce the laws against heavily tinted vehicles, which she said gave cover to people still using their cell phones while driving.
The road safety advocate also urged drivers to pull over if they wish to use the phone, while advising persons who make calls to hang up as soon as the realize the person on the other end is driving.
“Even if you are in a long queue you are still driving that vehicle and if you are caught using that cell phone you can still be charged,” she warned, while calling for a fixed penalty to avoid clogging the court system.
“We need to send a strong message. Persons need to take responsibility and be aware that if they use the cell phone while driving you are going to be caught and you are going to be reported,” she said.
Roland-Bowen said the BRSA would soon embark on a major sensitization and education campaign to inform people of the dangers of distracted driving, adding that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”.