ICTs and improving road safety

It’s 17 May 2013, and today we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) website, is “to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.”

The date of 17 May was chosen because it marks the date of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865, and the creation of the ITU. Initially the day was only known as World Telecommunications Day (it was celebrated annually since 1969). In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called on the UN General Assembly to declare 17 May as World Information Society Day, “to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS.” In November 2006, at the ITU Conference in Turkey, it was decided to combine the above two events into a single World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Every year, WTISD promotes a specific theme, an area where telecommunications and ICT has a significant impact, or potential for significant impact, on society. For 2013, the theme is “ICTs and improving road safety.”

According to a report by the UN’s Road Safety Collaboration, 1.3 million people die annually in traffic-related accidents, with another 20-50 million injured. Considering the medical costs involved, as well as costs of work-loss etc, traffic accidents clearly have a huge impact on economies globally.

The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive. (© All Rights Reserved)
The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The impact of ICT and telecommunications on road safety can be viewed from two sides. On the positive side, improved connectivity has a positive impact in terms of placing road users in contact with emergency services and road side assistance. Ever-increasing accessibility of maps and navigation services through smartphones etc can also improve safety on the road. Increasingly sophisticated traffic management systems have the potential to positively impact on traffic safety, and at the high end of technology, intelligent driver assist systems is another domain where ICT in particular has a huge potential role to play.

On the downside, however, driver distraction and road-user behaviour, including texting and interfacing with navigation and other communications systems while driving, count among the leading contributors to traffic-related accidents. And it is not only distracted drivers that cause problems – texting pedestrians represent an equally big risk, putting themselves and other road users in danger. The challenge in addressing these dangers is, of course, more educational than technical – it is all about educating all road users about the dangers of being distracted by personal communication systems while using the road.

So while today is a day to celebrate the amazing technological contribution ICT has made to improved road safety, it is also a day to remind ourselves of the terrible tragedies that have followed from the injudicious and inconsiderate use of mobile phones, GPS systems, etc while engaged in road usage.

Be safe, everyone.

Girls in ICT Day, promoting ICT as an equal opportunity career

The fourth Thursday in April (falling on the 25th this year) has been designated Girls in ICT Day by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in response to the global decline in the number of schoolgirls opting to pursue technology-related careers.

ICT is consistently ranked among the top 20 tech careers in terms of pay and long term prospects, and as one of the more stable and robust sectors, there is a strong, and by all indications ongoing, demand for young ICT professionals entering the market. It is also a domain boasting a good gender balance, and the ITU hope to use these facts, combined with its activities on Girls in ICT Day, to reverse the trend witnessed in other tech industries, and to grow the number of girls and women pursuing careers in the ICT sector.

Girls in ICT Day aims to show that ICT is not boring, geeky or uncreative. (© All Rights Reserved)
Girls in ICT Day aims to show that ICT is not boring, geeky or uncreative.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In 2012, Girls in ICT Day involved approximately 1,300 events held by governments, the private sector and NGOs in 87 countries, and it is estimated that these events reached over 30,000 school-age girls. In 2013 the aim is to grow participation to 100 countries, for even greater impact. In the social media space, events related to the day are linked through the #girlsdigital hashtag. One of the global online initiatives is the ITU-hosted Girls in ICT Portal, a consolidated source of information and resources on ICT opportunities for girls.

Perhaps the sentiment of the day is worded best on the Tech Needs Girls website: “Word’s out that tech has an image problem among girls who think it might be boring, geeky, uncreative and not really helping anyone! (…) So we’re here to encourage girls to step up to technology and not leave all the fun to boys in shaping our futures…”