Smartphone usage in cars in the spotlight as government studies effect of technology on drivers

Taxi dashboards cluttered with smartphones may be thing of the past as latest technology prompts government to consider new laws

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 3:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 8:41am

Laws regulating smartphone usage by drivers could be on the way after the government said it was studying the effects of the technology on safe driving.

Under a law introduced in July 2000 drivers are prohibited from holding mobile phones either in their hands or between their heads and shoulders while the vehicle is moving.

However, the law does not cover practices such as reading information from a phone placed on the dashboard, or even using the phone by pressing it or swiping its screen as long as it is not in the driver's grip. Such practices have become relatively common with the advent of touchscreen technology.

The decision to study the effects of such behaviour on driving comes after a taxi union said cabbies should be banned from having more than two mobile phones on their dashboards as they limited the view of the road.

The Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee said last month that some drivers sent text messages while driving and in an extreme case, one had 12 phones on his dashboard.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said if new laws were to be introduced, they should apply to all vehicles, not only taxis. "If there's a strong opinion among the public that it's dangerous for drivers to carry many phones, we need to consider also whether one or two phones could jeopardise road safety as well," he told the Legislative Council. "We need more comprehensive information."

Cheung said the government would collect statistics to see if smartphone usage and the use of multiple phones were linked to an increased risk of traffic accidents. It would also consider enforcement issues, he said.

"We agree that current legislation should keep pace with the latest developments and be reviewed from time to time having regard to technological advances and risk assessment."

Lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said there was an urgent need to regulate the use of smartphones while driving.

"Is it that you won't do anything until someone dies in an accident?" he asked.

Fellow FTU lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung said it was obvious that putting phones on the dashboard could jeopardise safety.

Hong Kong Taxi Association chairman Lai Hoi-ping said he hoped new laws could be introduced soon. "A normal person won't have more than two mobile phones, and a normal driver won't need more than two as well," he said.

He suspected that most of the drivers who kept multiple phones in their cars were soliciting passengers by offering illegal discounts.