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Distracted driving, distracted walking

THE initial attempt to enforce RA 10913, the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, last May was snagged in controversy when traffic enforcers sought to include bans that were not actually in the law, such as on rosaries hanging from rear-view mirrors and statuettes of the Virgin Mary on dashboards.

The enforcement of the law was held back for a while as all questions were resolved. It was finally carried out last July 6 – minus all the previous bans of the Department of Transportation’s Joint Administrative Order 2014-01. This time, only the ban on using cell phones while driving under RA 10913 was enforced.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) reported last week that in the first month of enforcement, it collected R75,000 from fines paid by violators. Some 250 closed-circuit television cameras all over the city caught a total of 547 drivers on video using their mobile phones while driving or waiting at traffic lights – 167 car drivers, 157 motorcyclists, and 82 Asian Utility Vehicle (AUV) drivers.

Distracted driving has become a worldwide problem, causing accidents and delaying the movement of traffic. It is hoped that effective enforcement of the Anti-Distracted Driving Act will help mitigate the overall traffic problem in Metro Manila, which new MMDA Chairman Danilo Lim has focused on. He has also closed down several city bus terminals and deployed enforcers to stop illegal parking on city streets.

Other cities around the world are trying to cope with the problem posed by people distracted by their cell phones.

Honolulu in the US state of Hawaii has gone further – its city council has enacted a ban on pedestrians looking at their mobile phones or texting while crossing streets. “We hold the unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hurt in crosswalks, particularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the country,” the city mayor said.

So now we have laws and ordinances on distracted driving and distracted walking. The ubiquitous mobile phone has changed the life and habits of millions of people around the world and we may expect more efforts in the future to protect people from other distractions it may cause.

Opponents of the Honolulu bill argued that it amounted to government overreach and infringed on personal freedom. We just have to be alert that this does not happen here. For the present, let us just have the ban on distracted driving and hope that it contributes to the overall effort to speed up the traffic in Metro Manila.

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