Community Politics and Policy

An ‘Anti-Phone-Use-On-The-Road’ Law May Be Necessary in Nigeria

You have probably seen the gory images of a corps member, Nneka Odili, who was run through and killed by a train somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos state.

We are not going over the details here. It was tragic as can be seen in the grief of the family of the young lady who must have embodied many dreams. However, it is hard not to feel she was one loose earpiece away from still having and working on those dreams.

Distracted pedestrians are a danger to themselves and there may be a need to intervene in securing their safety in those times when they are least alert but have to be. It is a problem visible in every community where young people are eager to constantly be in the communication and information loop, and one that will tend to increase with social media use. The default position of the average under-25 urban dweller is a neck curved towards a screen and wired pieces clogging ears. Perhaps there is the Nigerian factor to it: you want to finish watching that Instagram video on your way because of the uncertainty on the strength of the signal at your destination.

But tragedies like that of Ms Odili will be a wake-up call to a greater need for alertness in public. Can it also serve as the beginning of conversations on some regulation of distracted strolling?

Yes, you should not be reading this while walking (Screenshot/The New York Times)

Besides being dangers to themselves, such persons are potential dangers to other pedestrians and road users too, so there is a public safety and common good imperative. For example, a distracted pedestrian who suddenly realizes they are about to get hit by a car and manage to jump off the way could leave another pedestrian who had been behind him exposed and vulnerable. We don’t permit distracted drivers on the basis that they could get killed but also because they are harm to other road users, so it should not be too much trouble modeling a similar advisory for pedestrians.

There is an argument for emphasizing the importance of delineating sidewalks from the path of vehicles and trains. It is a worthy consideration for the road construction authorities in the country as that will make sure cars and humans don’t have to struggle for space. But there is a reality that cars climb slabs and maneuver even the available sidewalks in order to beat traffic, and pedestrians on their part inevitably find themselves on the roads either trying to cross to another lane or beating others to a bus with one remaining passenger space.

Should this become punishable? (Credit: Headphones photo via Shutterstock)

Actually, it is not just a Nigerian thing.

While the biggest news in accident and road safety has been the Uber driverless car killing a pedestrian in Arizona, the city of Montclair California has made it unlawful to cross streets in the city under three circumstances: “while engaged in a phone call, while viewing a mobile electronic device” and “with both ears covered or obstructed by personal audio equipment”. The law went into effect January 3 this year and they thought it necessary because “pedestrians now account for 15 percent of all vehicle-related fatalities and when compared, 2016 experienced a 22 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2014”. Fines are stipulated for offenders and pedestrians with medically prescribed hearing aids are exempt. [More on]

We will need to know the statistics on pedestrian accidents in Nigeria in making a strong case for such policy. However, Ms Odili’s tragic fate is already one too many.


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