Thursday, February 02, 2023 | Rajab 10, 1444 H
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It is not the phone but the mind!


While the road users elsewhere wondered about safety of ‘Kiki dance challenge’, which is going viral, the message trending in the social media in Oman was ROP’s warning, “Do not use mobile phone while driving. As per the new rule, the punishment is 10 days jail and RO 300. Please pass it to your friends.” As part of the ‘Kiki dance challenge’, people get out of moving cars and dance to Canadian rapper Drake’s song ‘In My Feeling’.

“As you know with this new generation there is the mobile phobia which means serious concern about losing smartphone. You will see that many people feel anxious when they forget their phone somewhere. Phone becomes the focus, rather than the other problems and concerns,” said Dr Yusuf al Mullah, a surgeon.

And for the Kiki dance that is catching up in other parts of the region. “The incident shows the tendency for blind imitation of other societies not knowing it can cause death or impede traffic,” Dr Yusuf added.

The question is what overpowers the mind to have ‘fun’ and take risks overruling safety and concern. There are two explanations for risk-taking behaviours. The first explanation is that the brain releases certain chemicals when the person takes risks, according to Dr Hamad al Sinawi, psychiatrist.

“These chemicals make the person euphoric. The second explanation is the introvert vs extrovert personalities — an introvert person might enjoy sitting on the sofa and enjoy watching a movie or reading a book, whereas an extrovert would enjoy risk-taking actions, riding a rollercoaster or bungee jumping. This is because there is something specific about their personality that makes them attracted to such behaviour,” Dr Hamad said.

Suleiman al Bahri says that he would avoid answering a call or texting while driving unless it is an emergency. “Also, most of the vehicles now have the Bluetooth so you can talk safely and without being distracted,” he pointed out.

“As soon as I enter my car, I connect to the Bluetooth and accept the urgent calls. If I have the chance to wait until I reach home I would do that. I try to avoid it as much as possible unless the road is completely empty and safe to take a glance at the important messages,” said Hussain al Numani. Driving long distance can be a challenge while trying to resist picking up calls. But there are drivers who would still resort to park safely before answering or making calls.

Hasna al Numani, who drives long distance for work reasons, said, “Honestly I think talking on the phone while driving is dangerous. My work includes me driving to Suhar and back to Muscat and other times to Jufnain and back. Sometimes on these trips we do have to check messages and make phone calls. That is why I prefer to take another colleague with me. But while I am going on long drives I avoid calls. However, I do see other people making calls and texting. When I see them do it, I feel bad because maybe they are not aware of the dangers.”

For another road user it is the fear of missing a call of emergency, “My mother would not call unless it is urgent. I am also afraid of missing an important call from someone who needed help. I would tend to take the slow lane, but that does not make it right either. We must be careful and become an example for our children.”

Regulations and fines could lead to safe driving. Dr J Retnakumar, an insurance specialist, points out that scientists have reported adverse health effects of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times and sleep patterns and even some risk of carcinogenicity. “More studies are underway to try to confirm these findings. As an insurance specialist, I can foresee health insurance underwriters rating usage of mobile phones as high risk and charging high premium for such people. Currently no such rating is there, but in future, once the adverse effects are confirmed, this can happen.”

A study by the University of Sussex, found out that hands-free can be equally distracting, “because conversations cause the drivers to visually imagine what they’re talking about. This visual imagery competes for processing resources with what the drivers see in front of them on the road.”

Transportation Research journal, published the study that stated, “Drivers having conversations which sparked their visual imagination detected fewer road hazards than those who didn’t. They also focused on a smaller area of the road ahead of them and failed to see hazards, even when they looked directly at them. This shows the risks of even hands-free phone conversations.”

This was because the driver in conversation would be naturally going through the visual images of subjects that are being discussed. So one can imagine what is going through the mind of Kiki dancers moving along the running car, listening to music, euphoric, conscious of the video recording and totally unaware of the surroundings.

Lakshmi Kothaneth

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