The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has warned that Nigerians should not use mobile telephones in any form while behind the wheel, including whether or not their devices carry hands-free kits.
“It is an offence to use mobile telephones in any form” while driving, Bisi Kazeem, a spokesperson for the FRSC The warning came after this reporter was pulled by the roadside by road safety marshals on Wednesday morning in Abuja, and reached out to Mr Kazeem to clarify whether the rule existed or the officers were being overzealous.
Although the matter was resolved without a booking for traffic offence, traffic officers warned that there would soon be a nationwide clampdown on persons driving with earphones or other hands-free devices.
The road safety has enforced its policy against a direct use of mobile telephones by drivers for several years, but most drivers switched to hands-free as the most convenient way to circumvent the offence, and traffic officers hardly pull drivers with earphones.
“We have not started enforcing it, but it is an offence to drive with earpiece because it is dangerous not only for the driver but other road users,” a road safety chief said in addition to Mr Kazeem’s message.
The delay in enforcing prohibition of hands-free while driving has led many to assume that the option was safe in Nigeria, and it was even the first choice in a list on road safety tips for drivers.
Expert studies around the use of hands-free by Nigerian drivers remained largely scanty, but scientists in foreign institutions have concluded that the option was not safe, and some found it could be dangerous as being twice above alcohol limit.
A collaborative research conducted by scientists at universities in Australia and the University of Barcelona, Spain, and published in 2013 found using hands-free while driving dangerous, and virtually the same as being twice above alcohol limit for drivers.
Another set of scientific findings published by the United States National Safety Council concluded that driving with hands-free could result in a deadly distraction.
Texting while driving has also a serious menace on Nigerian roads, especially among younger drivers. Studies conducted by foreign institutions showed that drivers on mobile telephones reduce their visual scanning of the road ahead or slower to respond to hazards, and recently developed apps that supposedly aid texting behind the wheel offer little protection to drivers.