Smartphones call for smart rules to keep drivers focused on the road

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 4:20am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 4:20am

When it comes to multitasking, Hongkongers are arguably among the world's best. Driven by an obsession with technology, most people have mastered the skills of fiddling with their smartphones while eating, walking, working and even driving. This is, of course, not to be encouraged, especially when it can pose safety problems to themselves and others. Sadly, the risk has been ignored by some business-hungry taxi drivers, who clutter their dashboards with multiple smartphones for taking orders. The situation warrants serious attention.

That distractions will compromise road safety is just common sense. But it has taken years for the government to acknowledge the problem. Amid growing concerns over the use of smartphones by drivers, the government will study to what extent the use of touch-screen technology weakens driving safety. This is a case of better late than never. The findings will hopefully form the basis for how best to move forward.

Those responsible for tightening the driving law 14 years ago could not have foreseen the advances in technology we have today. As in many overseas jurisdictions, our law only bans the use of hand-held mobile phones for drivers; it does not prohibit fiddling with fingers while driving.

The visual distraction from colourful touch screens may even be more dangerous than talking on the phone. With "flipping" and "swiping" almost like a reflex action for many phone users these days, it makes sense to ensure those behind the wheel will not go over the top.

Under the Road Traffic Ordinance, driving without due care and attention constitutes careless driving. The spirit should extend to the use of devices that may compromise the ability to react promptly while driving.

The growing dependence on smartphones makes a total ban for drivers impractical. But when safety is compromised, regulation is called for.