Phone use while driving ‘23 times more dangerous’

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Delivery drivers wait at traffic lights on Monivong Boulevard in June. Hong Menea

Most road accident prevention efforts in Cambodia have focused on things like speeding or driving drunk, but cell phone use while driving is also a serious concern for road safety.

Min Manavy, secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and secretary-general of the National Road Safety Commission, said that only a small number of people are being fined each year for using their cell phones while driving as many don’t pull over when stopped by the police.

“We hope that drivers will obey the traffic rules for their own safety if no one else’s, but it’s very difficult to get everyone to do so and that’s why there are many accidents,” she said.

She said that many provincial Public Works and Transport Departments are very active in educating and disseminating the traffic rules almost every day.

“There were 1,743 cases of telephone use from January 1 to May 31, 2022, which is equal to 10 per cent of the penalised offences,” she told The Post.

The Department of Road Safety recently posted a warning message about the risk of accidents when using the phone while driving.

“Talking with the telephone in your hand while driving is four times more dangerous and text messaging while driving is 23 times more dangerous than driving without using your phone at all,” the department said.

According to the Road Traffic Law promulgated in 2015, point 6 of Article 8 states that it is forbidden to use a mobile phone while driving without using a hands-free connection device.

Kim Panga, county director of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIP), said that due to different approaches in collecting information, in general the gathering of reports regarding the causes of accidents and whether they were due to driving while talking on the phone has not been done in detail in the Kingdom.

“We see that the use of mobile phones is an important part of punishing offences related to the road traffic law. It is a high percentage, among other reasons like not wearing a helmet,” he said.

Panga said that there are four typical sources of traffic accidents – human factors, vehicle factors, road factors and other factors.

He said that when it comes to human factors, that includes talking on the phone, driving recklessly and speeding or being drunk.

Vehicle factors are any mechanical issues such as problems related to the steering or brakes.

Road factors are due to road conditions, such as a road being too curved or under construction, while other factors include anything else, such as the weather.

Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesman for the National Police, said on April 6 that in the first three months of 2022 there were 859 reported traffic accidents resulting in 486 deaths, 779 serious injuries and 459 minor injuries.

Those figures are large increases compared to the same period in 2021, though the pandemic was a big factor in reducing travel on the roads and therefore the number of accidents at that time.

Minister of Interior and chairman of the National Committee for Road Safety Sar Kheng said in a letter received by The Post in April that people should always wear helmets when travelling on motorcycles, whether they are driving a short distance or a long distance, and they must not drive over the speed limit.

He added that people must never drive under the influence of alcohol, always respect other vehicles when passing, follow the traffic signs and stay in the right lane while using the left lane to pass, as well as always wearing a seat belt when travelling in a car and not taking risks when turning or passing. Finally, he said never use a telephone without a hands-free connector device.

‘Focus on the road’

A delivery driver with his right hand holding the steering wheel of a motorcycle and carrying a large load in the box behind him while his eyes gaze at the phone in his left hand as he looks for the address of the customer is a common sight today on the Kingdom’s roads.

“When driving, it is necessary for us to focus on the road ahead and on both sides, because there may be another vehicle with a driver who is negligent.

“If you spend time talking on the phone it’s difficult to concentrate and that makes it very dangerous,” Panga said.

Kong Rattanak, acting director of the Institute for Road Safety, said that talking on the phone isn’t safe for the driver to do, and even worse it also endangers other people on the road at the same time and increases their risk of accident.

He said there has been an increase in the past one or two years of delivery drivers using their mobile phones to see a map showing the customer’s location or to contact the customer without first pulling over.

He said the traffic safety department only warns drivers because the unit’s role is to direct traffic rather than enforce laws, but if the authorities decide to enforce the law then they have to follow the provisions of the law and delivery drivers cannot escape being fined.

“I think the ones who are working for delivery services should consider that if they have employees who have to use their phones they should be required to stop in order to use the phone. If we drive while using a mobile phone it poses a very big risk,” Rattanak told The Post.

One delivery driver, Chuon Dara, said he and his co-workers were trained to always pull over and stop when they were using their mobile phones for any reason.

“When I have to use the phone to communicate with customers, I stop first,” said 19-year-old Dara, who has been working as a delivery person for more than a year.

Vikai Yasithy, manager of the online marketplace Nham24, said the company has been training its staff from their first day to deliver food and packages safely, as well as training them on the use of phones and the basics of the traffic rules.

“If a driver is negligent in using his phone while driving and is fined by the police, that is his personal matter to deal with, but in that case he did not follow our company’s instructions and there could be workplace repercussions if we are informed about it,” said Yasithy.

‘A nuisance’

Although some delivery drivers have placed their phones on stands attached to the handlebars of their motorcycles to easily view the map and contact customers, these actions can still sometimes disrupt traffic.

Rattanak said that the installation of mobile phones on a stand on the motorcycle is usually a nuisance and that’s true even for luxury cars that connect with screen technology.

Drivers should not be allowed to look at anything other than the road because it all amounts to a loss of concentration.

Vun Pov, president of the Independent Democrats Association for Informal Economy (IDEA), argues that using the app without a phone is impossible unless they are speaking on the phone, and if they are speaking on the phone then they have committed a traffic offence.

“This is a point where app delivery companies need to teach the driving rules regarding cell phone use to their employees,” he said.

When customers call, drivers should be using a hands-free headset and stop to avoid traffic accidents or be fined by the police.

Besides talking, texting on the phone while driving has an even more devastating effect and can cause up to 23 times the number of accidents due to the driver focusing too much on the small screen, according to Panga.

“We also ask the government, especially the traffic police, to enforce the law on talking on the phone while driving, which we see as a big challenge,” Panga said.

“For both motorcycles and cars, phone use while driving is forbidden and the law must be enforced.”

Rattanak agreed that drivers are engaging in dangerous and risky behaviour if they text while driving.

“I encourage you not to look at messages or text messages while driving, whether it is a car or a motorcycle, because it is all about accidents,” he said.

“I encourage the authorities to consider first educating the public and then using stricter penalties because if something goes wrong it’s going to be too late to say they are sorry.

“People generally know that the use of mobile phones while driving is a problem, but they often neglect to follow their own advice on the matter.

“Some people’s opinions suggest that the implementation of our traffic laws is ineffective,” he said.

“Actually, it is related to the implementation of the provisions of the law, when police say that we cannot enforce the law because it affects the economy, livelihoods and so on, that means something needs to be amended.”