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Health: "No SMS is worth an SOS"

Russia and the US launch global initiative to help stop a lethal epidemic: distracted driving.

A follow-up document is being prepared that sets targets for reduction of road fatalities by 2020 that includes improving architecture, increasing funds for safety and installing better monitoring techniques.

An important recommendation is also collaboration with mobile phone companies. American communication company, AT&T started the campaign called “Txting and Drivng … It Can Wait,” this year, joining Verizon’s “Don't Text and Drive.”

“We are convinced that now it is high time to fully integrate the issue of distraction into the plan of action,” said Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the U.N. To date, out of the 192 U.N. member states, only 32 nations have passed laws against using handheld devices while driving.

In New Delhi, using the mobile phone can fetch a penalty of 1,000 rupees (approximately $20), but enforcement of traffic rules is lax. Even now, for instance, people in most cities get away with not wearing seat belts in cars.

The mobile phone ban is not nationwide in India, where an estimated 2 million people suffer a disability resulting from a traffic crash. But for some people, not taking an important call can spell professional disaster.

A New Delhi-based young corporate lawyer, Jitender Tanikella, admits that it will probably take a couple of hefty fines for him to stop. “It’s impossible to ignore client calls as you’re always expected to be connected 24/7,” he said.

Sharma is the New York/United Nations correspondent for the Press Trust of India and is a freelance journalist.