FILIPINO motorists were thrown into apparent turmoil last week when two laws aimed at improving road safety – the Anti-distracted Driver Law (RA 10913) and the Children’s Safety on Motorcycles Act (RA 10666). RA 10913 came into force on Thursday, May 18, while RA 10666 was implemented on Friday, May 19.
Under RA 10913, drivers are not allowed to use mobile communication devices while driving. “The of act of writing, reading, sending a text-based message, making phone calls, or watching movies, surfing the internet, reading an e-book or performing any sort of computation on a mobile device” is prohibited, the law stipulates, including when the vehicle is stationary during heavy traffic or at a stop light.
Mobile devices can be used if they have hands-free capabilities, such as a speakerphone or Bluetooth-enabled device, using earphones and/or a microphone, or integrated through the car’s audio system. The device must not, however, “interfere with the driver’s line of sight,” which a representative from the Department of Transportation said is roughly defined as anything above the line of the vehicle’s dashboard or below the interior rear-view mirror.
Exceptions to the law include using a mobile device when pulled over and stopped outside the normal flow of traffic, for emergency purposes such as to contact police or rescue services, and for operators of emergency vehicles when use of the device is within the scope of their duties.
Violations of the law carry stiff penalties ranging from a fine of P5,000 for the first offense; a fine of P10,000 for the second offense; a P15,000 fine and three-month suspension of the driver’s license for a third offense; to a fine of P20,000 and revocation of the driver’s license for the fourth offense.
Stiffer penalties are imposed for Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) drivers, drivers of school service vehicles or drivers of a common carrier of flammable or toxic materials, as well as any motorist caught in violation of the law within 50 meters of a school; for the first violation for any of these, a fine of P30,000 and three-month suspension of license will be imposed.
Under RA 10666, children (it has been reported in some media that it means children under the age of 18, although that is not specified in the law) are not permitted to ride on motorcycles, unless they are big enough to reach the footpegs and put their arms fully around the waist of the driver. They must also wear a proper helmet, in accordance with the Motorcycle Helmet Act of 2009 (RA 10054). Under no circumstances is a child permitted to sit in front of the driver on a motorcycle.
The law does not apply in only one circumstance, if the motorcycle is being used to transport the child for immediate medical attention.
Penalties under RA 10666 are a fine of P3,000 for the first offense; P5,000 for the second offense; P10,000 and a one-month suspension of the driver’s license for the third offense; and automatic revocation of the driver’s license for any subsequent offense.
The Anti-distracted Driver Law in particular caused a firestorm of public consternation and dominated the news for a couple of days, an indication of how hard it is to separate people from constant interaction with their cell phones and other electronic devices. Complaints were raised about the restrictions the new law placed on people’s ability to use navigation apps such as Waze, and lengthy discussions were held on the fine details of what constitutes “line of the driver’s sight” in mounting a phone inside the car.
Apparently, many drivers had a hard time grasping the relatively straightforward regulations; as of 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, the first day the new law was in effect, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) reported that 436 drivers had been apprehended for violations.
There seemed to be less anxiety over the Children’s Safety on Motorcycles law, although there were predictable complaints, particularly from people in provincial areas, that the new law creates difficulties in areas where there are relatively few alternatives for transportation.
The risk of distraction
The rule of thumb when driving a car is that anything that diverts the driver’s eyes from the road for longer than two seconds is a distraction. Two seconds is about the time it takes an average driver to recognize a hazard ahead and successfully take appropriate action (steering out of the way, or hitting the brakes), which is why, in places where driver training is common, drivers are trained to maintain a two-second following distance to the car ahead.
In two seconds, a car traveling at 30 kilometers per hour will cover a distance of a little less than 17 meters, or about 55 feet. At 60 kph, the car will travel 34 meters (110 feet), and at 100 kph, about 57 meters (187 feet). For someone with normal reflexes, who is maintaining a safe following distance to the car ahead, traveling those distances while essentially blind is not extremely dangerous; the risks are greater, but are still manageable.
In studies done by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Department of Transportation – the latter as background for a law banning cell phone use in cars in that state – drivers using a cell phone or other device while driving were distracted for 5 to as long as 15 seconds, depending on the kind of device and what they were doing with it. At 30 kph, a car travels almost 42 meters (138 feet) in five seconds; at 60 kph, 83 meters (275 feet – almost the length of a football field); and at 100 kph, 139 meters (459 feet).
To put that in perspective, that is approximately the length of the Jones Bridge in Manila; imagine driving across the bridge while blindfolded (please, don’t actually go and try that), and you might appreciate the significance of the risk that even “safe” devices – the car’s own information console, or a smartphone or tablet mounted to the face of the dashboard – presents.