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  • There was a song on one of those "golden oldie" shows the other day that went something like this: "Keep your eyes on your driving, keep your hands on the wheel, and keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead"
    Now OK, I´m no Jack Kerouac, but when I go travelling I certainly do a lot of it by road. Car, bus, truck, tuk-tuk; you name it. So I care a lot about what happens on the highway. And right now I don´t much like what I see (or, rather, what I don´t see).

    Here´s the question: Ever thought that we in the West are too busy turning our cars into mobile offices? You bet we are. Communications systems, navigation systems, audio systems, air control systems, head-up systems, scroll-down systems; flick a button, touch a screen. it can drive you to distraction; quite literally. And that´s just the point. For, according to some research I´ve just read, around three out of every 10 car accidents in the States are now caused by drivers having their attention diverted from what they really should be doing - eg keeping their eyes on the road. Ironic, isn´t it, to realise that no gizmo and gadget in the world is of the slightest use to someone in the morgue?
    Anyway, if this driver distraction thing is happening in the West, is it any better somewhere else? Answer: No. In fact it´s probably worse.
    I´ll give you some examples.
    In continental Asia, Africa and parts of South America, for instance, road transport isn´t so much of a mobile office; more often than not it´s a mobile home. And while the causes of driver-distraction may be different, the disease is just the same.
    Anyone been to Pakistan? If so, you can´t have failed to come across those Ashok-Leyland and Tata trucks of ancient vintage decked-out like the hand-painted wagons of an old rodeo show. Hitch a ride, and inside you´ll find all the comforts of home: beds, cooking facilities and probably most of the driver´s family and kids all demanding dad´s attention.
    Ugh! Never mind the fact that owner probably hasn´t got a licence, that the wheels have got no rubber, and the lights don´t work
    if you don´t steer well clear of anything that looks like it ought to be in a trailer park museum, expect no favours when you fall off the road.
    And then there´s Cuba. In Fidel´s fiefdom there may not be any water in the taps, or power at the switch, but there´s a galaxy of lovingly-preserved Yankee gas-guzzlers from the 50s and 60s doing the circuit. Again, it´s a home-moving accident waiting to happen; and this time the man at the wheel is usually paying more attention to the girl on the corner than what´s coming the other way.
    Mind you, none of this compares to my recent experience in Cairo, Egypt, where I hailed a cheap cab to take me across town.
    This driver too, must have lived in his mobile home-cum-office 24/7. Dangling from every hook and corner were pictures of his wife and kids most of them right before his eyes because, well, no doubt they were the loves of his life. Trouble was, any hope of a clear look through the windscreen was totally out of the question.
    And it didn´t stop there. Across the dash (fully carpeted, no less) was a collection of everything a man might want if he didn´t expect to be home anytime soon spare shirt, assortment of food, box of toiletries. Wow, every time we went round a curve in the road there was a highly moving experience. Fancy a cup of tea, he said, as we stopped briefly at some lights. "You what !?"
    It was no joke. "I´ve got everything right here," he beamed, "no need to stop," before casually producing a kettle from somewhere under his seat to plug into the cigar-lighter.
    Now, let´s be honest about this. There are many places in the world where a driver´s road transport truly is a second home. For work or pleasure, and often for both, it´s the centre of their world and until someone comes up with an auto-pilot system to drive the car for them, there will always be plenty of distractions.
    So no matter where you´re travelling, the way I see it is this: There really is a danger here that needs your full and undivided attention.
    © Richard Meredith & MercuryBooks 2007';