New law won’t stop drivers from texting

YOU probably surely know that texting while driving is a highly dangerous behavior. Nonetheless, the beep, buzz and ring of your mobile phone still instinctively make you grab your gadget and check it.

REPUBLIC Act 10913 or the Anti-Distracted Driving Act has been lapsed into law for some two months now, but the dangerous habit that the law aims to stop can still be observed among drivers.

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Senator Sergio Osmeña III shows a mobile phone in a Senate hearing while proposing measures prohibiting the use of mobile phones while driving to avoid road crashes (Senate photo)

Many are still seen making calls and texting while behind the wheels.

Joselle Segismundo, 25, is aware of the law, but bad habits die hard. She said instinct prompts her to check her phone whenever she hears a notification.

“I am used to it. It’s really hard to stop. It’s an instinct that when I hear my phone, I have to check it. Maybe it’s important, or there’s an emergency or I need to update someone,” she said.

“I know it’s wrong. I know it’s very risky, but I still feel the urge to really check my phone,” she added.

A study published in the Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal in 2010 found that all drivers are aware of the catastrophic consequences of distracted driving, but 90 percent of them are still doing it.

Text addicts

Clinical psychologist Camille Garcia said texting is a form of addiction.

“It’s like saying a gambler constantly checks his cards or does slots if he has money. And whatever happens, if he wins or not, he will still do gambling,” Garcia explained.

“In fact, it can create an anxiety if [the person] will not text. And as the tension gets higher, the greater there is a need to respond to the text or call,” she added.

A study commissioned by US telecommunications firm AT&T stated that the experience of texting releases dopamine, a neurochemical that makes people happy. The experience creates a general feeling of happiness and is associated with the satisfaction drug addicts get from satisfying their addiction.

Punishable act

The Philippines recently joined the growing numbers of countries that penalize distracted driving with the passage of RA 10913.

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Since the implementation of Metro Manila Development Authority’s anti-distracted driving ordinance in 1997, only 5,597 violators have been apprehended so far.

The Anti-Distracted Driving Act defines distracted driving as “using a mobile communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication or to make or receive calls,” and “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.” The prohibition against distracted driving applies even while drivers are stuck in the middle of standstill traffic or stopped by a red traffic light.

The law penalizes the likes of Joselle with P5,000 for the first offense, P10,000 for the second offense, P15,000 and a three-month suspension of driver’s license for the third offense, and P20,000 and revocation of driver’s license for succeeding offenses.

Drivers of public utility vehicles, school services and common carriers with “volatile, flammable or toxic materials,” and drivers who commit distracted driving within a 50-meter radius from school premises face a heftier punishment: P30,000 and suspension of driver’s license for three months.

The law also holds operators of PUVs and commercial vehicles liable if the drivers they hired commit such violation.

But it exempts drivers who use their mobile phones for emergency purposes.

Data from the Metro Manila Accident Recording and Analysis System shows that there was a total of 95,615 road crashes last year. Of these incidents, 536 resulted in death and 16,444 resulted in injuries.

The contribution of mobile phone use to crashes, however, is unknown in the Philippines, as data on mobile phone use is not routinely collected when a crash occurs.

Over 2,000 crashes because of “human error” were registered while 93,220 crashes because of undetermined causes were recorded.

Myra Nazarrea, project manager of the MMDA-Global Road Safety Project, believes that many of these incidents were caused by distracted driving.

“Considering that this is very huge number, most probably, these are crashes that involve texting while driving here because enforcers do not exactly record,” she said.

“Perhaps I think the people do not know that there’s a law,” Nazarrea surmised. She noted that drivers in Metro Manila can easily get away with violating the law because of authorities’ “apparent lax implementation.”

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Susan Shain and Bob Armlin in happier times (susanshain.com)

Deadly texting

Filipino drivers are well aware of the dangers of texting while driving.

A Facebook post from the US about a love story that turned tragic because of distracted driving has been shared by over 215,000 people around globe, including the Philippines.

The post related the story of Bob Armlin, 29, who died in a car crash on August 4, 2015 – just a day after he rekindled his romance with his high school sweetheart, Susan Shain, an American writer and traveler.

A post-accident report showed that Armlin’s vehicle veered toward the opposite side of a two-lane carriageway. No one was in the car with him, but Susan and his family believe he was distracted by his mobile phone.

“All I know is that he often used his cell phone while driving, and there’s not another plausible reason he would’ve crashed at 11 a.m. on an empty road,” she said in an email interview.

“[The incident happened] just minutes after we parted,” she recalled.

The two used to maintain a long-distance relationship. Bob lived in Kentucky while Susan was living in San Diego, soon to move to St. Petersburg for a new job. They communicated primarily through phone: via calls, texts and Snapchat – even while driving.

On the New Year’s Eve of 2016, grief-stricken Susan shared her emotional story on Facebook, asking others to follow resolve not to use mobile phones while behind the wheel.

“That means no texting (not even voice-to-text), no snapping (even if you are really good at singing to the radio), no fiddling with the music (set it and forget it), and no looking up directions (if you need GPS, use a dash mount and enter your destination while parked).”

“Why? Because it’s not worth it. It wasn’t worth the love of my life – it’s not worth any lives,” she said.

This story, which appeared in The Manila Times, was produced under the Bloomberg Initiative Global Road Safety Media Fellowship implemented by the World Health Organization, Department of Transportation and Communications and VERA Files. #SafeRoadsPH 

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