I own a fleet of school buses servicing private schools in our area. With the recent passing of a law prohibiting texting while driving, I would like to know if there are any exemption from this law because we sometimes require our drivers to communicate with us through their cellphones about their locations when picking up and dropping off our student-passengers We appreciate your advice on this matter. Thanks!
According to Republic Act (RA) 10914, also known as the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, it is unlawful to drive motor vehicles while operating the following devices:
“(a) Using a mobile communications device to write, send or read a text-based communication or to make or receive calls and other similar acts; and
“(b) Using an electronic entertainment or computing device to play games, watch movies, surf the Internet, compose messages, read e-books, perform calculations and other similar acts.” (Sec. 4)
This law prohibiting distracted driving is in line with the policy of the State to safeguard the public from the dangerous and possibly injurious effect of unrestrained use of electronic mobile devices that distracts motorists while on the road.
In relation to your concern as to the exemptions from this law, it is important to note that while this law prohibits the general use of the aforementioned electronic devices while operating motor vehicles, it provides for certain exemptions that are mostly applicable during emergency situations, to wit:
“Sec. 6. Exemptions. – The provisions of this act shall not apply to the following:
(a) A motorist using a mobile phone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services, agency or entity; and
(b) A motorist using a mobile phone while operating an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance, a fire truck and other vehicles providing emergency assistance, in the course and scope of his or her duties.” (Sec. 6, Id.)
In addition to this, RA 10914 also states that the provisions of this law does not apply to motorist of vehicles that are not in motion except those which are stopped momentarily at a red light or pulled over in compliance with traffic regulation (Sec. 5c). This, however, does not mean that all drivers of unmoving vehicles may use electronic devices. Distracted driving is still prohibited during momentary stoppage such as during red stoplights since the vehicle is still bound to be in motion on the road.
The law also qualifies that use of electronic devices while driving may not be considered to be unlawfully distracting if done using the aid of a hands-free function or similar device such as a speaker phone or other similar devices that allow a person to make and receive calls without having to hold the mobile communications device as long as the placement of the mobile communications device or the hands-free device does not interfere with the line of sight of the driver. (Sec. 5,Id.)
In your situation, while the use of electronic communication devices may be a necessity in your daily operation of school buses, the law expressly prohibits their use when operating a motor vehicle for the safety of the passengers and other motorists. Considering this, you may advise your school-bus drivers that, aside from emergency situations, the use of cellphones may still be allowed when used with hands-free devices that do not distract your drivers’ operation of the school bus. The essence of the law here is to ensure that the attention and cognitive skill of motorists are unhampered and uncompromised when using electronic devices.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.