BEIRUT: Road safety NGO Kunhadi has teamed up with Lebanon’s leading telecommunications company Alfa to launch an advertising campaign to educate drivers on the dangers of texting while driving.
“This is the second year we’re doing a campaign with [Kunhadi] and since then we’ve been open to any suggestions and we stand next to them to support them financially,” Marwan Hayek, Chairman and CEO, of Alfa told The Daily Star during a news conference Wednesday.
The campaign - created by Saatchi & Saatchi advertising company – will be a play on the ‘Last Seen’ feature of the popular messaging application WhatsApp. The feature lets users know when their contacts were last online, indicating whether or not they have read their messages.
The ad will show a WhatsApp screen with the user’s status as ‘Online’ and a change to ‘Last Seen’, implying that they’ve crashed. It will roll out on television, radio and billboards.
Driving infractions are a common occurrence on Beirut’s traffic congested streets. Despite the fact that it’s illegal to use one’s phone while driving, most drivers can be seen messaging, calling or simply browsing the internet while driving around Lebanon’s capital.
WhatsApp in particular is extremely popular, accounting for 12% of all of Alfa’s data traffic last month. Persuading users to cut down may be a difficult task.
“We are trying to convince people through education,” said Fady Gebran, the President of Kunhadi.
Gebran, a former banker, started Kunhadi in 2006 after losing his son to a car accident. His tragic death was the result of driving late night after being out at a nightclub with friends, since then his family and friends have dedicated their time to raising awareness about road safety in Lebanon.
The name itself translates to ‘Be Calm’ (kun hadi) and Hady is also the name of Gebran’s deceased son.
“One of his friends came up with the idea to start an association,” Gebran said, “but we couldn’t find a name so I went to [Hady’s mum] and she told me it’s easy, kun hadi.”
This is the second campaign that Kunhadi and Alfa have teamed up for following last year’s “In the Car, a Call is Very Costly” campaign.
Speaking on the success of the previous campaign, Hayek said it was difficult to assess the impact that the campaign had but noted that there had been a 3% decrease in accidents.
“If it is due to our campaign, that is something that we’re not really sure of at this stage,” Hayek confessed.
The statistics do paint a muddled picture. Numbers from the Internal Security Force (ISF) indicate that accidents did drop 3% - going form 4804 in 2012 to 4675 in 2013 – but the percentage of those accidents caused by ‘distraction’ remained relatively stable; actually rising slightly from 19.96% to 20.58%.
Ultimately, the ISF will play the main role in the reduction of traffic violations by enforcing the laws that are put in place, but Captain Michel Mutran, the media representative for the ISF, said that traffic laws are not a priority right now given the current political and security situations in the country.
Even among citizens, road safety is not top of the agenda.
“People want services, people want water, electricity, people do not want road safety so we need to promote road safety on all levels,” Mutran said.
“The main problem is we don’t have highway patrols that are just assigned to deter violations,” he added.
Having officers dedicated to policing traffic offences is the most effective, if not the only way, to reduce traffic violations as officers at checkpoints can only truly monitor whether drivers are wearing a seatbelt or not, Mutran said.
On the surface traffic enforcement may seem extremely trivial when compared to the recent security incidents that have rocked the country but according to Mutran, on average 50 people are injured and one person dies in traffic accidents daily in Lebanon.
“Maybe it’s not a priority but if you count, you lose more people to car crashes than anything else,” Gebran said.
The Chief of Public Relations for the ISF Col. Joseph Mussallem said that they may be taking a tougher line in the future as Parliament just passed a new law on July 15th to revamp the ISFs traffic enforcement.
“It’s like the international criteria, it’s been inspired by the European systems and includes things such as demerit points,” Mussallem said of the new law.
While the law itself was created in 2012, Parliament just passed the procedures to allow it to be executed. The law will include the creation of a two-year academy that will train police specifically on highway laws.
Given the time it will take to get officers up to speed, drivers will likely be WhatsApp-ing, Snapchat-ing and Instagram-ing behind the wheel for the foreseeable future.