Make no mistake about it, distracted driving is extremely dangerous, and any serious effort to curtail it is welcome. According to the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), “[f]rom 2001 to 2006, traffic accidents caused by cell phone use while driving increased more than five times in the Philippines, the highest increase among causes of traffic accidents.” And since this statistic is from the pre-smartphone days, it would be a surprise if that number hasn’t signifcantly increased since then.
Which is why the Anti-Distracted Driving Act (Republic Act 10913), taking effect on May 18, is an important piece of legislation attempting, even though it reads like it was drafted by someone’s iPad photo-taking grandma.
The Act restricts the usage of mobile devices while driving. This includes using “cellular phones, wireless telephones, two-way radio transceivers, pagers and other similar devices” to “write, send, or read a text-based communication or to make or receive calls” or to “watch movies, surf the internet, compose messages, read e-books, perform calculations, and other similar acts.”
While a few of these activities seem antiquated, where the Act is surprisingly vague is in its mention of unspecified “similar acts.” It’s unclear if this covers useful navigation apps such as Waze and Google Maps, or non-text based communication such as Instagram and Tinder.
The text, however, is quite clear in listing the types of vehicles covered under the law, which includes engine-driven vehicles such as “automobiles, trucks, vans, buses, jeeps, motorcycles and tricycles” but also mentions habal-habal, kuligligs, carts, sledges, chariots and the like, as well as wheeled agricultural machineries and construction equipment, if operated in public thoroughfares and highways.
So, yes to swiping right while backhoeing a cavity on a private construction site? But no to e-reading Dante’s Inferno while stuck in traffic hell? Snapchatting on a kalesa is a maybe? More likely and serious scenarios will definitely need to be clarified, so traffic police and drivers will be able to properly interpret the law.
For many drivers, another area of confusion is the placement of mobile devices and dashcams so that they do not obstruct the ‘line of sight.’ According to TopGear, which attended a Department of Transportation briefing, “line of sight includes your entire windshield and on top of your dashboard, except for the area behind the rear-view mirror."
“Officials pointed out that behind the rear-view is where you can place your dashcam, as you don't need to look at it while driving. As for phone mounts, these can be placed either behind (but not on) your steering wheel on the instrument panel, or on the center of your dashboard where the center air-con vents normally sit.”
Do remember that you are not allowed to hold and operate your device while driving, so you’re better off inputting your destination into your navigation app before you get going. However, “[t]he operation of a mobile communications device is not considered to be distracted driving if done using the aid of a hands-free function or similar device such as, but not limited to, a speaker phone, earphones and microphones.”
Contradicting this official statement, the PCHRD states on its website that “[t]he theory that hands-free sets are safer has been challenged by the findings of several studies. A study by researchers at the University of Utah published in 2006 concluded that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model.”