A powerful new road safety advert airing on Qatar television during Ramadan aims to stop people using their mobile phones whilst driving, a habit that is one of the leading causes of fatal traffic accidents in the state.
The 30-second Qatargas commercial – titled, “Did you get the message?” – is being shown on the Arabic channel Qatar TV and can also be viewed on the company’s website, shows a young man texting a friend while driving along The Corniche.
The advert then suddenly cuts as the driver appears to smash into the rear of a red pick-up truck. It finishes by showing his mobile phone lying on the ground, with its shattered screen still showing the text conversation.
In conjunction with the Ministry of Interior (MoI), the ad is part of the national One Second road safety campaign and is aimed at showing young people the potentially serious consequences of a moment’s distraction behind the wheel of a vehicle.
It states that mobile use while driving was one of the main causes of the 5,320 road accidents in Qatar in 2014 and is the latest in a series of annual Ramadan commercials by the company dealing with road safety issues.
More road deaths
It is being aired as official figures show an increase in the number of people who died in traffic accidents in Qatar during May.
According to the latest national monthly bulletin from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, 23 people died as a result of road traffic accidents in May – up from April’s tally of 21 and four more than May 2014, when there were 19 deaths.
The only other month so far this year when the figure of fatalities from traffic accidents was higher was January, when 31 people died on the country’s roads.
May 2015 also saw more people injured in minor accidents (668) than in the previous month (647) or for the same time the year before (578).
However, there were three fewer casualties as a result of major accidents in May (58) than in April, when there were 61.
This compares to May 2014, when there were a total of 57 people injured on Qatar’s roads.
Meanwhile, the monthly statistics bulletin also shows that the number of recorded traffic offenses decreased in May.
While Qatar’s population during May rose more than 9 percent year-on-year, and there were 12 percent more vehicles on the roads, the overall number of traffic violations for the month was down 8.3 percent year-on-year.
A total of 145,182 violations were recorded by authorities in May, up by 4 percent on April’s figures.
Comparing the year-on-year numbers, May 2015 saw a 12 percent increase in the number of bookings for driving through a red traffic light. Other offenses detailed in the report including speeding, violating traffic signs, failing to renew registrations and driving licenses and violating traffic instructions, all of which saw a dip in numbers compared to the previous year.
Switch it off
There is no specific category in the report for the number of motorists caught driving while using their mobile phone, however the catch-all category of “other” offenses saw a rise of 58.2 percent on 2014 violations.
The penalty for those caught using a mobile while driving is QR500, and in the past authorities have said they are cracking down on the widespread practice.
The Traffic Department has launched campaigns in the past in a bid to encourage people to voluntarily stop the practice. However critics have said these need to be coupled with tough enforcement to succeed.
In response, the director-general of Qatar’s traffic department, Brig. Mohammed Saad Al-Kharji, promised at the end of last year that there would be more patrols on the roads, including stationing officers at major intersections, to catch those breaking the law.
Meanwhile, others are trying to encourage voluntary compliance among Qatar residents.
Last year, a local company launched several apps that voluntarily lock a motorist’s mobile phone while a vehicle is moving.
Developed by Qatar Mobility Innovations Center, the Salamtek initiative has software that locks a cell phone when a vehicle is moving above a certain speed, logging missed calls and messages and sending automatic replies to those calling a Salamtek-enabled phone.
Early last year, elected officials on Qatar’s Central Municipal Council called for all cars in the GCC to be equipped with technology similar to Salamtech’s software. However, the costs involved in fitting such a system in all cars in the region means it is unlikely that vehicle manufacturers will take up the suggestion unless it is becomes a requirement by multiple Gulf states.
There is an ongoing competition to encourage more people to use the technology, with rewards for the 10 safest drivers.
Authorities here are also trying to encourage more people to wear seat belts when in vehicles, and new findings from research undertaken by trauma experts at Hamad Medical Corp. is adding to the existing research showing that belting up saves lives.
A 2012 study for Qatar Shell found that many residents are still reluctant to wear seatbelts. Its figures showed on average 81 percent of drivers buckle up, compared to 71 percent of front-seat passengers and just 8 percent of back-seat passengers in the state.
Recently, a team from Hamad Trauma Center (HTC) has been comparing death rates of people involved in vehicle crashes who wore seat belts with those who were not restrained.
They found that drivers who don’t wear a seat belt are five times more likely to die in a collision than if they were belted up, while the likelihood of unrestrained front seat passengers dying is four times as great.
And it’s even higher for those sitting in the back seat, where passengers are seven times more likely to die if they are not wearing a seat belt, the researchers found.
“Drivers and passengers who are not wearing seat belts are at a much higher risk of dying, being ejected from a vehicle, or suffering from a severe injury or permanent brain damage, if they are involved in a road crash or accident.
“Passengers are 31 times less likely to be ejected from the vehicle if they are using a seat belt. This means the risk of death is three times for those not properly restrained and therefore more likely to be ejected,” Dr. Ayman El-Menyar, HTC Research Consultant and lead author of the paper said.
The findings are part of a HTC research paper entitled: “The Underutilization of Occupant Restraint Systems in Motor Vehicle Injury Crashes: A Quantitative Analysis from Qatar,” which will be published in the journal of Traffic Injury Prevention.