Crossing a road in Saki Naka is nothing short of a nightmare. You have to first prance around a colossal pile-up of cars adjacent to Holiday Inn, the prominent five-star hotel, a few meters from the signal. The other hurdles include dysfunctional signals, honking autorickshaws, pan-smeared and pale zebra crossings, victory-waving crowds who have come out alive shopping from the nearby fresh fish-market, couples loitering on the road, motormen jumping signals, disrupting beggars and urchins...
The exercise lasts a good ten minutes for a stroll that should end within seconds.
Welcome to Saki Naka , a small yet arterial road from Kurla, a suburb in India's financial capital, and to a scene that is similar to those in any cities in India. Accidents have not been strange to Saki Naka, and in the same vein to India also.
Indian roads, especially the ones like Saki Naka , are at best accident-points. They are smeared with pan , besotted with potholes, struggle with hawkers even as signals lay dysfunctional. Add to this jaywalkers, signal jumpers, alcohol- and phone-distracted drivers mowing down innocent people – most Indian roads in cities are nightmarish even for a walk.
According to statistics, 17 people died in 55 road accidents per hour in India on average. An Accidents India Report suggests nearly half a million accidents that resulted in 150785 deaths.
The statistics computed from FIRs solely blames driver's negligence for road accidents (84%), killings (80.3%), and injuries (nearly 84%). Last year it was Chennai that witnessed the maximum road accidents - 7,486, then the national capital - 7,375, Bengaluru- 5323, followed by Indore and Kolkata. Aamchi Mumbai , meanwhile, ranks seventh on that list.
While a majority of these accidents are caused by drunk drivers, phone distraction is also a prominent factor in road accidents.
Anirudh Singh, a Sify.com reader from Gurgaon who's had a near-death experience due to one such phone-distracted driver, has been waging a battle against the use of mobiles while driving for quite some time now. He was at the receiving end on the road, after that driver’s car grounded him and his motorcycle. But Singh decided to fight back, not with a police complaint, but with a patent.
In an exclusive interaction with Sify.com he talked about his patent and the emergency button, another invention that helps accident victims.
Since 2000, Anirudh along with Yashpal Singh, Lokinder Singh Verma, and Manu Singh have worked towards a patent that looks at disconnecting network signals the moment the vehicle's ignition key are switched on or the vehicle starts moving at a certain speed. A sensor within the driver seat pairs with the phone and identifies movement of the vehicle as well as engine-ignition.
The US patent website classifies their Patent document as "granted".
"The moment the engine starts, the sensor picks up, and disconnects the network," he shares. The utility not only means end of calls but also no more buzzing notifications from apps like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter etc to distract a driver.
Anirudh's patent not only talks about how networks can be blocked within a vehicle but also within packed auditoriums or sensitive buildings and even flights. Network jammers, one might say already are in use, but “jammers work with a very high frequency and there are radiation concerns, the cell-signal blocking system to that regards is radiation free,” he points out.
The sensor works only for the driver seat, so the adjacent and rear seats can still remain connected. The American Patent Office granted his claims in the year 2007, and since then Anirudh has been fighting to get his invention implemented.
WORKING FOR MANDATE
Car manufacturers in India are yet to do so. Most manufacturers are waiting for the ministry of transport, the authorizing body, to come up a notification that compels them to adopt this. The idea that the ministry would come up with a notification might seem a far-fetched one at first.
But the transport ministry recently surprised two-wheeler markets by announcing that all two wheelers sold from April 2017 would have the Automatic Headlamp On, meaning no more physical buttons to switch off the headlamp. The implementation date of April 1 led many to think that it was either a Hoax or an April Fool's message, but it clearly wasn't.
Will Anirudh succeed in getting a mandate from the transport ministry? Well, he has already been successful in getting the Information and Broadcasting ministry to insist on an Emergency Button.
According to a notification that appeared in the official gazette, all smartphones selling from January 1 2017 will dial an emergency code on clicking a button or following a series of swipes. Clicking the emergency button will not only send a response to law enforcement officials but also send a distress note to your near and dear ones.
“The law states that handset manufacturers need to be put in a dial-in number, which is 112, for security, like the 911 implemented in the US... The deadline is 1st January 2017,” Anirudh says with a glint.
The emergency button should help accident victims to reach out to near and dear ones, as well as help law enforcement agencies to start immediate data collection as well as expedite help to victims. The first few hours after an accident are extremely crucial, not only for collecting evidence, but also for saving lives.
One might argue that personal assistants such as Google Voice and Siri too can be customized to initiate these SOS calls. “Such features do exist, but are not 100% fool-proof. The voice assistant and even Siri depend on internet availability, but what if there is no internet at that moment of emergency?” Anirudh asks.
He further shares that the ministry acted upon his patent and requests. After his accident, he has been making several rounds and meeting officials at the ministry as well as corporates to get a physical emergency button.
Call it engineering acumen or his persistence, Anirudh has been leading the voice against phone-distracted driving. He says, "Besides, the Indian government and corporates, I am also reaching out to the US president."
He has already been referred to as the man behind the emergency button. If vehicle makers and the ministry respond to his patent, then we might have to thank him and his colleagues as the men who made driving a phone-free exercise.