PETALING JAYA: Using your smartphone at the wheel can be more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol, said a Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) board member.
Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon, who is also a former Miros director-general, said studies have shown that using mobile devices while driving slows down a driver’s reaction time.
“The level of impairment to driving while using a mobile phone is similar to that of taking the wheel after consuming a few pints of beer.
“It would typically take a driver less than a second to manoeuvre away from another car. But if the driver is on the phone, it takes him twice that time to evade the other car.
“In some cases, drivers get into accidents they could have avoided because of delayed reaction,” Dr Wong explained.
He said it can be challenging for people to practise driving without using smartphones because mobile devices have become an inseparable part of their lives.
According to Statista.com, the number of smartphone users in Malaysia is expected to reach 19.9 million this year – more than half the country’s population of 32 million.
Dr Wong said that as Malaysians are heavily reliant on their phones for everyday matters, they may not see how some driving habits could put them at risk of getting into an accident.
“Some drivers cannot go anywhere without using Waze (a popular navigation application). But it can be dangerous if they do not use the app properly.
“Simple safety measures like positioning the phone holder where drivers can easily see the navigation on Waze, or keeping both hands on the wheel, are often ignored.
“Drivers would have one hand on the wheel while browsing their smartphone with the other. This is dangerous because it takes the driver’s focus off the road,” he explained.
While lauding the move by the Transport Ministry to include using mobile phones on the road as an offence under the Automated Awareness Safety System (Awas), Dr Wong said it can be hard to prove.
“Proving whether drink-driving was the cause of an accident can be done with a breathalyser test.
“Unless he was caught in the act, it is hard to prove if an accident happened because the driver was on the phone.
“This is a critical issue that we need to address,” he added.
Road Safety Department (JKJR) director-general Datuk Rosli Isa said using a mobile phone while driving results in a six-fold increase in the risk of a fatal road accident.
“This is a very big issue now. There needs to be stricter enforcement by the police and the JPJ in order to bring down the level of negligence among drivers on the road.
“Recently the JPJ director-general said there will be a higher penalty for drivers caught using mobile phones.
“JKJR fully supports these efforts to make our roads safer for everyone,” he said.
Worldwide, the US National Safety Council revealed, mobile phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million accidents annually.
According to the US Department of Transportation, at least 32 countries have made it illegal to use the phone while driving.
In Oman, drivers caught using mobile devices behind the wheel face a maximum fine equivalent to RM3,225.
Other countries with fines for first-time offences include Bermuda (RM2,068), Trinidad and Tobago (RM930), Qatar (about RM566) and the Philippines (RM413).
In Britain, the fine for using a phone while driving is equivalent to RM1,095.