MP proposes full ban on headphones, communication devices while driving
Opposition Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips is proposing a ban on motorists using earphones while driving as part of efforts to force discipline on Jamaican drivers and cut the number of Jamaicans dying in road crashes each year.
He also wants a full ban on the use of electronic communication devices, angering one taxi group.
Phillips made the proposals during his contribution Tuesday to the debate on the Road Traffic Bill in the House of Representatives.
Clause 121 would allow motorists to use hands free devices such as headphones but Phillips said it needs to go further.
"When both ears are plugged, it impedes one to hear all that is happening around them," the Manchester North West MP said. "It just may be an emergency vehicle trying to make its way or a fellow driver blowing their horn to warn you. Mr Speaker, this may just save a driver's life."
Phillips has won support from the National Road Safety Council, which said it had not previously thought of a ban on headphones.
"The members of the council would be in favour of earphones being banned," Paula Fletcher, the council's executive director told The Gleaner. "In the traffic environment it's so complex that you really need all your senses to function. It's not just sight but hearing as well.'
She added that: "Although the law permits deaf persons to be licensed so there may be that argument. But we talking now about general use of earphone. It may also be said that it's not illegal to listen to your radio but I would want to say that if you cover your ear with an earphone it's a little different to listening to the radio."
Phillips, meanwhile said if Parliament is "serious about saving lives" it would consider amending the bill to ban the use of all electronic communication devices by operators of public passenger vehicles.
Fletcher said that proposal was made during previous deliberations in parliament and while it could be re-examined, she's wary about any delays to the bill.
"The minister who has the portfolio responsibility for the bill has said we can take other changes afterwards but we don't want to delay it."
The National Council of Taxi Associations (NCOTA) has reacted angrily to the proposals calling them "rubbish".
[They] don't make any sense. In today's world of technology, it is totally impossible for that not to be (using headphones or other communication devices). What about the person using two-way radios or persons who have customers that call them. These parliamentarians must go and think about what will make the country better."
Jamaica would not be unique in banning ear/headphones. France last year banned motorists and cyclists from using earphones in an effort to cut its road death toll.
The bill being debated is a revision of one proposed last year.Some changes include a proposal that persons who use cellular phones while driving be slapped with a $30,000 fine, three times the amount in the previous bill.
The new is also proposing imprisonment for the offence.
The bill, if approved, will replace the current law first approved in 1930s, that road safety lobbyists say is outdated.
Two-hundred and ninety-seven people have died in road crashes over the period January 1 - October 11, two per cent less than the number for the similar period last year, according to data from the Road Safety Unit in the Transport Ministry.