BEIRUT: In collaboration with the NGO YASA (Youth Association for Social Awareness) the mobile telecoms company (MTC) Touch has launched a new road safety campaign titled “Avoid Distracted Driving,” aimed at discouraging texting while driving.
The initiative aims to complement the “Drive Zain” safety campaign launched by Touch’s mother company Zain across the Middle East and also comes in the wake of the Cabinet’s approval of a new traffic law on July 3. The new legislation marks the first revision to Lebanon’s traffic law since 1967.
Since 2006 the two organizations have collaborated on a number of initiatives aimed at improving road safety.Corporate communications and relations manager for Touch, Ghada Barakat, said distracted driving has become one of the three main reasons for car accidents, in particular highlighting the dangers posed by texting while driving. YASA statistics estimate that 37 percent of people send and receive texts while driving.
Barakat said the visual, manual and cognitive efforts required to text mean that those texting while driving are 23 times more likely to have a car accident than a normal driver.
In order to raise awareness of the danger of this phenomenon the campaign has a strong street presence on billboards around Beirut, and radio and television interviews have been conducted. YASA also visits schools throughout Lebanon to raise awareness of road safety.
Ziad Akl, YASA’s president, said there have been 200,000 beneficiaries from YASA’s campaigning.
Akl views the ratification of a new driving law as a potential breakthrough in improving road safety in Lebanon – providing it is implemented.
“It has been 47 years,” Akl said. “When the current law was established there were 50,000 cars on the road in Lebanon, now we have 1.4 million.
“A law created in the ’60s can’t function in 2012,” he said, emphasizing that 15 years of Civil War coupled with postwar reconstruction meant that the issue of road safety only became a priority in the early 2000s.
Following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the issue again fell off the table as civil tension rose once more.
Akl noted that in order to change Lebanese driving habits the government needs to enforce the law, with strict penalties imposed on lawbreakers.
“Some people in Lebanon feel that they are above the law,” Akl said. “In terms of the number of people who die and are injured as a result of road accidents in Lebanon it is like an ongoing conflict – killing people daily. The government needs to prioritize this issue.”
According to YASA’s statistics for 2011, 900 people died and a further 12,000 were injured in Lebanon as a result of road accidents. WHO’s data for 2011 said road related deaths accounted for 5.27 percent of total deaths in Lebanon, making it the fourth most common reason for death in the country.