Do politi­cians be­lieve in sci­ence?

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - Cedric E. Stephens pro­vides in­de­pen­dent in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice about the man­age­ment of risks and in­sur­ance. For free in­for­ma­tion or coun­sel, write to

QUES­TION: The new Road Traf­fic Bill is now be­fore Par­lia­ment again for de­bate. One area of con­tention is whether there should be a com­plete ban on the use of elec­tronic de­vices by driv­ers. What are your views on the sub­ject?

— E.S., Kingston 6

IN­SUR­ANCE HELPLINE: Thanks for seek­ing my com­ments on this very top­i­cal is­sue. I am glad that our law­mak­ers are dis­cussing the mat­ter once more. I was very dis­ap­pointed that the per­son who pi­loted the bill dur­ing the last ad­min­is­tra­tion — a med­i­cal doc­tor and there­fore a per­son trained in the sci­ences — al­lowed non­sci­en­tific con­sid­er­a­tions to in­form the con­struct of Clause 121 of the long-over­due law.

Clause 121 pro­hibits a per­son op­er­at­ing a ve­hi­cle on the road from “us­ing an elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice, whether by hold­ing it by one or both hands or with other parts of the body un­less the ... de­vice is (a) at­tached to the mo­tor ve­hi­cle or is part of the fix­ture and re­mains af­fixed while it is used or op­er­ated; (b) spe­cially adapted or de­signed to be af­fixed to the per­son of the driver as a hands­free de­vice, and so used to en­able the driver to use or op­er­ate the ... de­vice with­out so hold­ing it.”

Sec­tion 122 out­laws the use of elec­tronic vis­ual de­vices.

Elec­tronic hands-free com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing stan­dard fea­tures of new mo­tor ve­hi­cles. If Clause 121 re­mains as is, it will, per­haps un­in­ten­tion­ally, per­pet­u­ate in­equal­ity in the so­ci­ety. Its im­pact on dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion will not be the same.


The haves and oth­ers in the so­ci­ety who have the means (aka money) will be al­lowed to use their ve­hi­cle-af­fixed, hands­free phones when driv­ing, while the oth­ers — the ma­jor­ity — will be the sub­ject of fines of $30,000, as­sum­ing that Min­is­ter Mike Henry has his way.

Pas­sen­gers and driv­ers of older mo­tor ve­hi­cles — which dom­i­nate the ve­hi­cle pop­u­la­tion — and pedes­tri­ans would be at greater risk in the event of ac­ci­dents than their coun­ter­parts who have the means to change their ve­hi­cles ev­ery two or three years.

Mod­ern ve­hi­cles are em­bed­ded with many ‘smart’ fea­tures that re­duce the chances of col­li­sion and lessen the sever­ity of in­juries to pas­sen­gers.

Clause 121 does not have a foun­da­tion in med­i­cal sci­ence or to the process by which de­ci­sions are to be made and ap­plied to all mem­bers of a mod­ern so­ci­ety. In an April 30, 2003, ar­ti­cle I wrote: “A team headed by a Univer­sity of Utah psy­chol­o­gist, David Strayer found that con­ver­sa­tions on hands-free phones slowed the re­ac­tion times of driv­ers. They also in­creased the risk of crash­ing.”


Talk­ing on cell phones while driv­ing causes a con­di­tion known as ‘inat­ten­tion blind­ness’. Strayer and his col­leagues com­pared data for hand-held and hands-free de­vices and found no dif­fer­ence in the im­pair­ment to driv­ing, rais­ing doubts about the sci­en­tific ba­sis for reg­u­la­tions that pro­hibit only hand-held cell phones. This was ac­cord­ing to a study re­ported in the Jour­nal of Ex­per­i­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy Ap­plied (Vol­ume 9, No 1).

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion in Driven to Dis­trac­tion —­search/ac­tion/drive. aspx — “psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search is show­ing that when driv­ers use cell phones, whether hand-held or hands-off, their at­ten­tion to the road drops and driv­ing skills be­come even worse than if they had too much to drink. Epi­demi­o­log­i­cal re­search has found that cell­phone use is as­so­ci­ated with a four­fold in­crease in the odds of get­ting into an ac­ci­dent — a risk com­pa­ra­ble to that of driv­ing with blood al­co­hol at the le­gal limit.”

The Mona Cam­pus of the Univer­sity of the West Indies has a Fac­ulty of Med­i­cal Sci­ences. It also has a Depart­ment of So­ci­ol­ogy, Psy­chol­ogy and So­cial Work. I have seen no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that on this im­por­tant mat­ter, where many lives are at stake, Par­lia­ment ap­pears not to have sought the in­put of some of the spe­cial­ists in medicine and psy­chol­ogy at that in­sti­tu­tion to in­form the de­ci­sion-mak­ing in re­la­tion to the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion.

It is very wor­ry­ing that our lead­ers in Par­lia­ment or tech­nocrats in the rel­e­vant de­part­ments have not found the time to ac­cess this ba­sic in­for­ma­tion or reached out to in­sti­tu­tions like UWI or UTech.

I dis­agree with Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for North West Manch­ester Mikael Phillips and Na­tional Safety Coun­cil head Paula Fletcher. Un­til such time that there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that con­tra­dicts what Dr Strayer calls inat­ten­tion blind­ness, there should be a com­plete ban on the use of ALL elec­tronic de­vices (in­clud­ing head­phones) for all driv­ers. The Na­tional Coun­cil of Taxi As­so­ci­a­tions should be asked to pro­vide sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sup­port its ar­gu­ment that a com­plete ban on the use of all de­vices is “rub­bish”.

When the use of seat belts was made manda­tory, there were howls of protest by many per­sons in the so­ci­ety. Taxi driv­ers were among the loud­est voices.

The au­thor­i­ties should use the ex­pe­ri­ences from that law to per­suade driv­ers about the fol­lies of us­ing cell­phones while driv­ing in order to change be­hav­iours.



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