Studies have shown that the use of a mobile telecommunication device while operating a motor vehicle reduces the driver’s field of vision by some 75 per cent.
Distracted driving significantly increases the likelihood of road accidents and fatalities because the driver’s focus is mainly on speaking on the phone.
Programme Coordinator of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), Victor Anderson, has said this is the primary reason the Road Traffic Act, 2018 and The Road Traffic Regulations, 2022 prohibit the use of mobile telecommunication devices while persons are operating motor vehicles.
“Distracted driving is a very serious matter. The vehicle is a dangerous implement when you are not operating it with your full concentration being brought to bear on what you are doing. The position is that you should not be using a mobile phone unless it is in hands-free mode. That is the basic foundation of the Act,” he told JIS News.
Anderson said the Act is very strict in its treatment of the use of devices while operating motor vehicles.
“Sections 121 and 122 of the New Road Traffic Act say specifically that the person shall not drive or operate a vehicle on a road while using an electronic communication device, except when it is used in hands-free mode,” he noted, adding that failure to comply with the law attracts a fine of $10,000.
“If you are using the phone while driving, and if you go to court, and the judge agrees that you are guilty, then it is $30,000 – four points for the phone, six points for a video device – so it is considered a very serious offence,” he said.
The Act also prohibits a driving instructor from using a cell phone or using an electronic communication device while instructing or accompanying a person who is learning to drive.
It specifies what use means, what is an electronic communication device, and what hands-free means.
The coordinator said the law defines use as holding the phone in your hand to send and receive electronic and video messages, send and receive electronic mail, or text-based messages to send or receive still or moving images.
“The law is quite clear. The whole point is that you must not be using a cell phone while driving unless you are using it in hands-free mode,” he emphasised.
“Sometimes people complain that they had the phone in their lap, or it was sitting beside them; they did not have it in their hands. But the Act says specifically that if you are holding it in your hand, or it is attached to any part of the body, then that is an offence,” Anderson noted.
He explains that drivers must use either earphones or the Bluetooth connection to the radio in the vehicle, so that they can use the phone without touching it.
“Sometimes cell phones are used to play video messages. That also is prohibited, so is watching a movie while you are driving, whether it is on a cell phone or any other video device within the driver’s line of sight while the driver is operating the vehicle. That is also an offence,” Anderson said.
If it is absolutely necessary to use the phone by hand, he said the driver must ensure that the vehicle is off the road, or lawfully parked. The vehicle must not be in motion.
“It must be stopped in a way that it is not impeding traffic. So, you cannot say well, I had stopped on the road and took (up) the phone to use it. That is not allowed. Sometimes persons give the impression that they moved off to the side of the road, they were not interfering with traffic in any way, but the law cannot be written so that you and the police officer can be having an argument as to whether you are using it or not. The law is very specific,” he said.
Installation of gadgets that facilitate viewing of motion images while driving is also prohibited. Approximately 4,000 tickets were notably issued for that offence last year.
“The video device must not be operating within the driver’s line of sight at all while the driver is operating the vehicle. The phone should not be displaying still or moving video images. That is an offence. If the police see you using a video device while driving, that is a problem, even if you say you are not watching it. It must not be within the driver’s line of sight,” Anderson said.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) reported that it will be cracking down on individuals who are caught using their cell phones while driving. This includes texting or holding the phone to their ears while driving.
More than 10,000 tickets were issued last year to drivers caught in violation of the particular provision of the Road Traffic Act.
The Road Traffic Act, 2018 and the Road Traffic Regulations, 2022 were implemented on February 1, 2023.