“I see so many motorists either talking on cell phones or texting, it makes me feel quite desperate. Where is it all going to end? What can be done about this growing cancer amongst our South African drivers?”
“Good morning Mr. Policeman. I just want to explain. I wasn’t talking on my cell phone and also my car was stationary.”
The first comment probably echoes the desperation of many South African motorists. There would probably be many more such horrified motorists joining the ranks if only they knew of the very serious dangers of using the cell phone and texting while driving.
The second comment mirrors a serious misconception amongst many South African drivers that it is fine to use the cell phone as long as you are not talking. We will see how South African legislation is quick to dispel such myths.
We are going to take a look at the various ways used to combat this crime.
At the outset, the 2011 WHO Report1 laments the fact that the evidence out there regarding the impact of cell phone distraction on driving is not enough to make good policy decisions. Before looking at what is happening in South Africa, let us see how the rest of the world tries to tackle this serious problem.
LEGISLATION AND POLICIES
It is one thing to have tough laws promulgated on paper, but it is a totally different ball game trying to get those laws off the pages and making them work in practice. In other words, we are talking here about law enforcement. Without law enforcement, the population in general tends to consider the existing laws a joke. A law is only as good as its enforcement – no enforcement, no law. This perception is clearly evidenced by the ever-worsening problem of drivers using cell phones in South Africa. No driver seems to dread anything in terms of keeping the law, because law enforcement is perceived not to be an issue. There are no apparent deterrents to breaking the law.
Once launched, the news of strict law enforcement may spread rapidly amongst South African drivers, and a perception that there is a good chance you would be seriously fined or lose points according to a rating system for using a cell phone whilst driving, would become more established. Eventually, a culture of taking the law of the road really seriously could develop.
LAW ENFORCEMENT IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Some countries such as Portugal have extended the ban on the use of cell phones while driving, to hands-free phones. In the US, for instance, young drivers are banned from using cell phones. In the US, many States prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones. Some countries such as Argentina have specific laws, where texting or reading texts is prohibited while driving.1 What is obvious is that world-wide, there is a lack of consistency in the application of the law for addressing this growing problem. Only when law enforcement is being seriously applied are there any results. Norwegian police use binoculars to see what motorists are up to. The problem with this is that the use of hands-free phones cannot be detected. The use of heavily tinted car windows (especially in use in South Africa) makes it also really difficult to see if someone is using a cell phone.WHAT DOES THE SOUTH AFRICAN LAW SAY ABOUT DRIVING AND CELL PHONES?
According to the South African National Road Traffic Act, the following rules apply:2
- No driver is allowed to use a hand-held cell phone while driving.
- A cell phone may not be used at traffic lights when the car is not moving.
- A cell phone may not be used for taking photos, and browsing the Internet while driving.
- Officials who used to be exempted are now no longer so.
- Visual display units, and TV’s in cars are prohibited from use while the car is used and not parked. Although the use of GPS and its screen is exempted from this, the route towards your destination should be typed in before leaving.
- Your cell phone will be confiscated for 24 hours if you happen to be caught in the Western Cape (a 2012 bylaw)3
Although the use of a hands-free kit is banned in several countries, its use during driving is not prohibited in South Africa.
EFFECTIVENESS OF LEGISLATION
Many countries have discovered that legislation did not decrease the number of motorists using cell phones.1
EMPLOYER POLICIES PROHIBITING CELL PHONE USE
Many companies have policies in place prohibiting their employees from using cell phones while travelling officially. Not only is the implementation of such policies seen to be protecting staff from unnecessary dangers on the road, but it also protects the image of the company as being law-abiding. In South Africa, the driver of a company car was recently seen talking on the cell phone. This breaking of the law by a company employee certainly does not do the company’s image any good.
In addition, fleet safety programmes are introduced, training the staff in, amongst other things, excellent driving standards. What is a sobering thought for company directors in the UK is that, unless they implement policies prohibiting staff from using cell phones while driving, they themselves can be held liable for any cell phone-related accidents. 4
IMPLEMENTING PUBLIC AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS
Experience from several countries has shown that even with sustained law enforcement, distracted driving has not been effectively reduced. The issue at stake here is the public perception on what is acceptable and what is not. Eating while driving, for example, would be considered to be fine. The other difficulty is that in South Africa, where security for motorists is of paramount importance, especially with hijackings and the like serving as a background, the possession of a cell phone while driving is seen by many as a necessity and the difference between life and death. Educational campaigns about distracted driving may change the culture and perception of the public on the use of cell phones while driving.
A POSSIBLE FUTURE DETERRENT – WILL YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY PAY OUT?
As is the case when a claim is repudiated when it is shown that the driver was under the influence of alcohol, so insurers should have the right not to settle a claim if it can be proven that the driver was talking or texting while driving.3
This article was prepared by Eric Sandmann in his personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views and opinions of Prime Meridian Direct (Pty) Ltd, FSP41040.The views and opinions in the article should not be attributed to anyone but the author unless expressly stated. Nothing in this article should be relied upon as advice, this publication is presented for informational purposes only. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found in this article, without first obtaining proper financial advice from the appropriate professional. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, or completeness, of any information linked from, referred to, or contained in this article. The author reserves the right, to edit and change the content of this article.