No distractions for safe driving
H. Kishie Singh

The City Beautiful has many firsts to its credit as my friend from Delhi found out. He was exiting the parking lot at the Lake Club with a cigarette in hand. A policeman flagged him down and politely informed him that he may not drive and smoke in Chandigarh. Smoking and driving are not allowed in Chandigarh, "and please remember Sir," said the polite policeman, adding, "Chandigarh is a smoke-free city. No smoking in public areas"!

As my friend was about to drive off, the policeman stopped him again. "Everyone has a cellphone these days Sir, no cellphone use while driving!"

Smoking was prevalent before the car and no one paid much attention to this malaise. Cellphones are a recent invention and their usage has spread like an epidemic. It has also been proved that cellphones are a major cause of accidents. Though no figures are available for smoking causing accidents, one thing is confirmed : it does distract the driver who may fidget and fumble for the cigarettes and then the lighter.

There is a song by The Avons from the 1930s : "Keep your mind on the driving, keep your hands on the wheel and your shifty eyes on the road!" It is a timeless truth and the golden rule of motoring. However, these days it is the last thing on any motorist's mind.

Today's breed of drivers are born with dad's car keys in one hand and a cellphone in the other. No diving instructions, no word of caution or advice as from a good father to son. An untamed tiger hits the road. The prey is the world out there. Drinking and driving are banned the world over. In the UK, the Department of Health has issued leaflets that mobile phones are a health hazard. So is driving or crossing the road. In the US, some states like New York, Maryland and Massachusetts are legislating a ban on hand-free phones.

However, it is not the phone that is the problem. Some phones are voice activated. It is the content of the message that may be upsetting. The broker calls, "The stock market has crashed," and the driver thinks, "Who is going to pay off the car loan and the house mortgage?" that translates into severe emotional stress plus financial problems. The driver should not have been subjected to such stress; he may became anxious (only natural) worried (also natural), irrational and illogical (potentially dangerous). He should not be at the wheel of a car, driving at high speed on a public road.

However, one of the most dangerous fitments in our automobiles is the music system, and it is the one to have received the least attention. The only improvement in the music system has been that the controls for volume and channel selection have been moved to the steering wheel. A vast improvement, but still a distraction. While fiddling with the audio controls, only one hand will be controlling the steering wheel.

Perhaps, the best way to sum up the moral of this drive with two hands story is the sound advice given by the caring father to his son. The son wanted to borrow the family car for his Saturday night date. Said Dad, "Don't drive with one hand, son, take a taxi and use both hands." Happy Motoring !