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Insurance Helpline | Road traffic bill flawed, Section 121 should be redone

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2016 | 6:00 AM

QUESTION: What is the status of the new Road Traffic Act? Is it likely to come into operation soon? My concerns stem from the recent spate of motor vehicle accidents that have resulted in the loss of lives and injuries to many persons. Does the new law say anything about the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while operating motor vehicles? Will it have any immediate impact on reducing motor insurance costs?

M.C., Kingston 6

 

INSURANCE HELPLINE: The new Road Traffic Bill is currently in limbo. It was approved by the House of Representatives last November after being studied by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament. Later it was referred to the Senate. The latter body did not get to do its job. Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

Newly appointed members of the Senate will now, therefore, have the task of passing the new legislation presumably with fresh pairs of eyes before it is sent to the Governor General, where it becomes law when he signs it.

Motor vehicle accidents affect our society in many ways. The insurance industry life and non-life is one of many sectors that are affected. Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton, for example, says, "The rise in motor-vehicle crashes has severe implications on our already burdened health-care system."

The prevention of accidents is an important part of the strategy to lessen their effect. Fines and other penalties that are imposed by rules and regulations enacted under new legislation, when coupled with consistent and effective enforcement by the relevant authorities, is one of the ways to reduce the carnage on our roads.

 

CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING

 

Section 121 of the Road Traffic bill deals with the use of cell phones. These gadgets are referred to in the bill as 'electronic communication devices'. The section reads:

"... a person shall not drive or operate a motor vehicle on the road while using an electronic communication device whether by holding it in one hand or both hands or with other part of the body or otherwise, unless the communication device is: a) attached to the motor vehicle or is part of the fixture in the vehicle and remains fixed while used; b) specially adapted or designed to be affixed to the person of the driver as a hands-free device and so used to enable the driver to use or operate the device without so holding it."

Section 122 prohibits the use of electronic visual devices while driving or operating a vehicle.

Section 121 does not prescribe a total ban on the use of cell phones or mobile phones. The use of hands-free devices is allowed.

What scientific data have informed the last parliament's decision to permit the use of hands-free devices in the new legislation? Is there any reliable information about the approximate numbers of persons who use cell phones while operating motor vehicles or riding motor cycles? Do insurers capture these data when accidents are reported?

From my experience while filing a police report about a minor collision at the Constant Spring Police Station recently, I learnt that that type of information is not collected.

 

HANDS-FREE IS NOT RISK FREE

 

In the absence of evidence that supports the proposition that the use of hand-free communication devices significantly reduces the risks of motor vehicle accidents, the new Parliament should completely revamp section 121 of the bill.

Lawmakers should read Distracted Driving and Risk of Road Crashes among Novice and Experienced Drivers. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), part of Blacksburg-based Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. They defined distracted driving as "the diversion of attention away from activities critical for safe driving towards a competing activity".

"Hands-free is not risk-free. From a distracted driving point of view, it is not the fact that you are holding the device in your hand that's the problem. It's having the conversation and how that impacts people's brains," contends Rick Geller of Marsh Risk Consulting in the May 2016 issue of Canadian Underwriter.

Other points made in the same article include the following:

* In the United States, 26 per cent of auto crashes involve cell phone use, according to the Itasca, Illinois-based National Safety Council.

* Estimates based on cell phone records indicate that cell phone use among all drivers increases the risk of a crash by a factor of four, according to the VTTI researchers.

* Other research conducted in conjunction with VTTI shows that a driver's crash or 'near crash' rate "nearly tripled when reaching for, answering, or dialling a cell phone", reports the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of Arlington, Virginia.

"When you are talking on the 'phone, whether it's hands-free or actually holding the device, your ability to process moving images decreases by about a third, and your field of view narrows by about 50 per cent," Geller warns.

In opening the debate on the Road Traffic Bill last year, the former Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr Morais Guy (a medical doctor) was reported by the Jamaica Information Service to have said that there was need for a new road traffic law that would "ensure that we have something that is modern, that addresses some of the issues that have been plaguing us on the road(s), and brings the Act into the 21st century." Section 121 of the Bill does not meet these standards.

Finally, it is not my expectation that when the new law is finally passed it will have any impact - immediate or future - on the cost of motor insurance.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com