OPINION: Distracted driving - the insanity of public roads


August 15, 2011

Image Gallery (120 images)

The distracted driving epidemic seems to know no bounds. With global road deaths set to exceed 1.5 million human beings in 2011, almost every country in the world continues to accept the mayhem on the roads as simply the cost of doing business. Distracted driving is the hot topic of the moment with research suggesting 5,800 U.S. traffic deaths last year were tied to motorists who failed to keep their eyes on the road.

Another study claims American drivers are distracted between one-quarter and one-half of the time they spend on the road, two-thirds of drivers use a cell phone while driving, one-third used a cell phone routinely and observational studies suggest between 7% and 10% of all drivers are using a cell phone at any given time. If you think that's bad, you should see what happens in Asia.

How accountable should road users be?

Should public roads be a place where safety is sacrosanct? If you kill someone through your negligence on public roads, should you be charged with manslaughter? If your negligence or lack of reasonable care causes another life to be lived in pain, or someone's quality of life to be significantly reduced, for decades, should you be forced to compensate that person equitably? If you take another life through your chosen actions, albeit indirectly, how accountable should you be?

Much of my opinion on such matters early in life was based on the fact I rode a motorcycle, and that I was of little danger to anyone else, and I was angry about the cynical revenue raising activities of governments more intent on balancing the books (by fining people), than saving lives.

In more recent times, I have been swinging around to another viewpoint - that public roads should be a place where public safety is paramount, and anyone endangering public safety should be simply removed from the roads. Drink driving, excessive speed, dangerous driving etc should be given one extremely costly chance and after that, you forfeit your right to use them for a significant period of time.

Now, this is entirely personal opinion, and it is as much a personal essay on life on public roads as it is a photographic essay on life on roads in developing Asian countries.

A few years ago, I read new research from the University of Utah which suggested that driving while using a cell phone gave one roughly the same reactions as a person of 0.08 blood alcohol content - for quite different reasons, but the end result was the same. Remarkably, the study concluded that whether the driver was speaking on a hands-free or holding the phone, the end result was EXACTLY the same. The problem is not the holding of the phone in the car, but the driver's mind being elsewhere.

As someone who had ridden a motorcycle as my preferred form of transport for much of the preceding half century, and with a background based in mathematics, the research resulted in a personal epiphany.

To put it in perspective, if 10% of the drivers on the road were driving with 0.08 blood alcohol content, there would be a massive outcry at the mayhem being caused. Logically, such behavior would be stopped immediately in any developed country.

Not only hasn't it been stopped, the people we have elected to govern us have now legislated almost unanimously, in almost all developed countries, to ensure that hands-free devices are okay for use on public roads, and handheld cell phones whilst driving are not.

It doesn't make sense, and after giving it some thought, it resulted in my motorcycle riding being curtailed almost entirely. A dented fender on a car is roughly the equivalent of a broken leg or much worse for a motorcyclist, and I decided to err on the side of caution given the growing threat of always-connected voice and video and text-messaging on the road.

Distracted driving isn't new. We've always had passengers to talk to, kids to control, hair to coiff in the rear vision mirror, documents to read and meetings to "prepare for" while we were stuck in traffic. As technology has advanced rapidly, the number of compelling distractions has grown. At first it was the car radio, better radio stations to find, and then the compact cassette player (with linear access which needed constant shuttling to find what you were looking for), the CD player, digital radio and now texting, anmd the internet to keep our minds exactly where they shouldn't be.

There's an epidemic sweeping the roads of the world called distracted driving, and if you spend a lot of time on the roads, sooner or later it will impact you, quite literally.

So I decided to reduce the risk posed to me by other road users by reducing my time in traffic on a motorcycle. Motorcyclists, pushbike riders and pedestrians are the most vulnerable of road users - they are disproportionately representative in traffic deaths by comparison with car drivers, and similarly, they are way overrepresented in the roughly 75 million road accidents which occur each year across the planet. I did not wish to become a statistic.

Then I started traveling to less developed countries a lot more, and remarkably, I began riding again - in an environment where the dangers are far greater. I now travel with a $1000 helmet in my baggage, because I know that the only way to travel in most Asian countries is by motorcycle. In Ho Chi Minh city, for instance, a lengthy journey by motorcycle will take less than half the time taken by a car.

In many countries, people come up to me regularly to ask about the helmet, and how much it costs. I feel embarrassed to tell them its cost because to them, my helmet represents several months of the family income. I started travelling with the helmet in Vietnam, after finding that 34 people a day die on Vietnamese roads, most of them in my favourite Vietnamese city, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

As a motorcyclist in Europe, America and Australia, I have witnessed plenty of ridiculously stupid behavior by educated, relatively-wealthy car drivers.

As a motorcyclist (and driver and passenger) in Asian countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia, I have seen the same behavior a lot more clearly. In such countries, the motorcycle is more often than not, the first motorized transport the family has ever owned. It is the equivalent of the family car. Car drivers in developed countries still talk without a hands-free, or text, but when everyone rides a motorcycle, texting and talking is there for everyone to see. It is undisguisedly common behavior.

The following photo gallery is a glimpse of life on the roads in a different country (90%+ of Gizmag readers are in developed countries), where three, four and five people on a motorcycle are commonplace (I once saw SEVEN), where helmets are optional (or cost $10 or less and have dubious impact protection qualities), and where the police forces are too busy with other matters to enforce road rules. In most asian countries, the police only book people who clearly have money - the populace at large is not worth the effort.

This article will continue to be expanded as I add photos and additional thoughts.

Finally, I'm not proposing any answers. The more I travel, the more I realise that human nature is its own enemy and that the combination of the motor vehicle and natural selection are improving the gene pool all over the world, just faster in some countries than others.

Stay tuned, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

not only motorcycle riders sadly, lorry drivers who watch a television whilst driving on the road, car drivers who have music so loud they cannot hear emergency vehicles,cyclists who wobble all over the place when going up a hill instead of walking with their bike. If you remember that you are in charge of a vehicle which is capable of causing death, drive with respect for all other road users, smile and say thanks, give way in traffic etc etc


robin, don\'t you dare talk about cyclists. Riding up a hill is a tough job and walking, well.. it beats the purpose. It\'s up to the law makers to make roads technically safe and bear in mind that there are all kinds of transportation vehicles (that INCLUDES bicycles), which have to be accounted when designing the transportation system. Not to mention the positive aspects of cycling and the negative of motorized vehicles.

Renārs Grebežs

It gets even worse. I live in Thailand. The new government set by Taksin\'s sister, has just announced that the mass public transportation infrastructure will be delayed and eventually canceled in order to finance their new policy: \"every students in the country as well as police officer gets a free tablet computer.\"

This is outrages. Not only will the people that were planning the travel by the public transport buy new cars and motorcycles, therefore increasing traffic resulting in more accidents, but the cops currently control traffic lights. During peak time, you often see the red light on for 1 hour. This is because the cops are watching their favorite Thai soap opera on TV. Now that they will get the tablets, they will have another reason to forget doing their jobs.

Occasionally, I work on movies. I once did a movie role as a cop (full uniform) in the infamous city Pataya. After shooting, I sat down next to the real Thai cop and asked him why he doesn\'t stop those motorcyclists passing by. They dont wear helmets, talk on phones, carry dogs or babies, driver wears helmet but his 3 sons dont, etc. He said he is off duty. I asked him that if he stopped all of those people, then he could get rich off fines and stop this atrocity in one day! I asked: Aren\'t you scared the kids might die if there is an accident? He said not to worry, the kids NEVER die...So I stood up, told him to watch how its done, went to the side of the road and halted the first motorcycle that was wrong. They stopped, ready for a ticket. The cop got pissed off and sat on his motorcycle, without a helmet drove away.

It all comes from example. If cops were to do the right driving manners, wouldn\'t the people follow suit? In addition, he tried to convince me that if he stopped all the motorcycles (and did his job properly) in a week, he could get loads of bribes, but for the rest of the year, no more bribes so no more money. They plan their jobs 1 day per week.

What corruption. I am disgusted. And don\'t get me going about the vehicle drivers here in Thailand, especially the \"hi-so\" rich with their USD 400,000 (imported tax) AMG e-class mercedes and BMW\'s and so on....

Tony Kalniev

Bikes wobble. When pedaling uphill, when biking in windy conditions, when avoiding potholes and other road debris. It\'s a natural condition of biking.

The same applies to equestrians, skaters, kids and old people. They wobble. Please adapt your driving style. Cars don\'t own the roads.


Although I agree with most of what is written in this article, and some of those pictures, I am conditioned to be shocked by.

However, please remember that we are designed by nature with a basic need to take risk, especially young males. Without this need, the human race could not have survived.

Right now, we have never lived in such risk free times, but I\'m sure we have lived in happier times.

Humans can be so arrogant in that we believe the laws of nature that apply to animals in general, don\'t apply to us.

It\'s a shame.


Note that ALL the adults shown in the photos are wearing helmets....none of the children are.......are kids cheap over there? Ian Colley.


Sorry to see so few posts, and some of those off the subject, on this important article.

As long as we have had cell phones, all the studies have demonstrated that their use while driving is as dangerous as DUI, i.e., driving drunk, and their use while driving has caused as many deaths as driving drunk.

And those results were prior to the arrival of texting.

Just those killed in the US from using cell phones while driving exceed the aggregate number of people killed by actual terrorism world-wide annually. But protecting people from the self-focused idiots who use cell phones while driving would not reap the political benefits that scaring people about terrorism does. Were any government interested in protecting the lives of its citizens, it would prioritize by risk to life. The US certainly does not, and I expect that none do.


Regardless of what idiot adults do, there is NO excuse for risking the lives of innocent children, commonplace amongst the photos posted. Stacked up like sardines and without even a hint of the protection afforded by a helmet, this is a disgrace. I feel sorry for these helpless little kids. Why would YOU wear a helmet but not have one for your child?


I often wonder why is it that most folks are unable to take things as they are? Those motorcycle/scooters in Asia are the family cars. They are proud of them, proud to take the whole family on them. It is their own lives they are risking, too. And helmets are simply beyond them financially. Yes, \"innocent\" children die every day, all over the world. So do innocent adults. Are the latter somehow less valuable than the former? Would you prefer that they all live to 120 so as to truly overfill the world?

So mind your own damned business instead of calling for new laws, complaining about conditions in a country where you do not live and generally making a nuisance of yourself. Get a life of your own and try to live it without poking your nose into everyone else\'s!


Right on TheRogue1000! Apparently if you eat just right, exercise all the time and never do ONE SINGLE dangerous thing EVER you will NEVER DIE! Now I\'m not suggesting for a moment that people shouldn\'t be careful where ever possible BUT we have become such nanny state safety-crats the world over that it\'s amazing to me that anybody has the ability to stay alive on there own anymore? For one thing I\'d say people don\'t really, but haven\'t we always as been a species of risk takers through out our human history? And besides if you believe in evolution why are you all trying to stop this whole \"survival of the fittest\" thing from taking place? That\'s just the way we\'re wired isn\'t it? Yes it\'s dump what people do in defiance of absolute common since but REALLY stop trying to outlaw everything? There are TON\'S of laws the world over to deal with people who mess up and believe me I\'ve had to deal with a few! You\'ll never stop stupid human antics with piles of intrusive laws, and don\'t tell me that you hope I get hurt or killed by one of these people because of what I think, you\'ll more then likely be injured or killed just the same even if there are draconian laws in place to protect you and then what good was the law to you? I\'ll figure out how to survive on my own thank you!


Interesting - but take a ride into central Jakarta before pre-judging traffic conditions anywhere else in Asia. Now that really will make your hair curl...!

Nick Herbert

How ridiculous! Why don\'t we just outlaw machinery while we\'re at it? Think of all the lives you\'d save then! No more CO,helmet,gas OR phone problems!

First though, let\'s just outlaw legislation... imagine all the money we\'ll save!

The above comments were mostly just as riculous as what I just wrote!

If Mr.Spock were here, his human half would have a nervous breakdown...


Hi Robin/Gizmag, I live in Thailand and see the stuff in your pics everyday.The way to deal with it is to assume the other person is an idiot all the time.Assume they won\'t indicate.Assume they\'ll do anything at anytime.Wtch the wheels,not the lights.Yes,the cops are there only to collect \"tea\"money.I think Robin,you missed an important point.There is very little petty discipline imposed by parents,schools or police.There\'s a general slackness about Thailand and S.E.Asia{except for Malaysia and Singapore} that means you can\'t ever shout or loudly castigate anyone.So people are allowed to do as they please.And when accidents do happen it\'s assumed to be bad karma and nothing else. The solution is to sack the current police force and replace them with people who are prepared to do their job.This is not going to happen for another generation at least.Though more people are starting to use cars and thus making traffic here in Chiang Mai congested.


This is useful for riders and bikers trying to combat people who insist on using their phone when on the road:


\"There outta be a law!\" is the mentality that assumes a law solves problems. It does not. It adds corrupt bureaucrats into the mixture. And violence (fines are extortion). I was disabled by a wreck less driver 33 years ago and discovered the legal system is a joke. I got about 10% of what I was told was \"standard\". So much for being \"fully insured\".


overpopulation solutions. god(less) bless Darwin.


There are two main reasons why people don\'t put helmets on their children - poverty and lack of education. These are common to most of the problems of the developing world - indeed, investing in education is the only sure fire solution to the world\'s problems.

Mike Hanlon

I live in Thailand also, but the thing i find more ridiculous than the locals riding around without wearing Helmets, talking on cellphones and with a couple of young (also helmetless) kids hanging on for dear life is that so often I see tourists from developed nations following their example!

Developing nations are just that! Developing! they will get to the point we are at one day where you can\'t blow your nose without filling out a safety report!

Daniel Spinks

A solution?? Self-driving cars. FAST! (also a proposal by M. E. Arth, a candidate in Florida governor elections 2009)


Just curious, what did you get for $1000 for a helmet _ a diving bell?

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles