ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER of Police, Keith Gardener, in a July 17 article supporting our columnist Dennie Quill's call for greater attention to be paid to cellphone usage by motorists, has suggested that existing legislation is adequate to address accidents caused by reckless driving. He, at the same time, posits that new legislation may be needed to deal specifically with this most ubiquitous of communication technology. We agree with him.
We have yet to locate any data or local study proving a nexus between the high incidence of traffic accidents and cellphone usage in Jamaica. However, anecdotal evidence suggests this may be an under-recorded phenomenon. Many near misses have been reported and there are numerous instances of clear inattention to what is happening on the road while drivers are engaged in animated conversation on the cellphone. Legislators in other countries - from Australia to the Slovak Republic; from Chile to Hong Kong - have found it necessary to implement specific laws banning cellphone usage by motorists while driving. Others allow usage but only for the hands-free models.
One specific restriction implemented elsewhere which we think is imperative here in Jamaica is the banning of bus drivers from using their phones while driving. At the best of times, many of our drivers of public passenger vehicles tend to behave as if the roads are their private and exclusive domain. The danger they pose to other motorists is exacerbated with their attention diverted elsewhere.
We would suggest that any re-examination of the Road Traffic Act to encompass accidents resulting from careless driving and cellphone usage should be accompanied by a vigorous public education campaign pointing to the dangers.
Whatever its usefulness in times of emergency and to people in areas who do not have easy access to landlines, the cellphone has become an all too pervasive part of our existence - perhaps even more than daily ablutions. The National Road Safety Council can add to its already useful public education campaigns by having sustained focus on the dangers of cellphone usage by motorists.
The motoring public should begin to think about their own safety too, and pay due regard to the dangers to themselves and others. As a back-up, the state should move to protect some people from themselves, through additional, specific legislation.
THE OPINIONS ON THIS PAGE, EXCEPT FOR THE ABOVE, DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE GLEANER.