PETALING JAYA: As long as motorists use hands-free kits or holders for their cellphones, they would not be flouting the law if they swipe or touch the display screen to make or receive phone calls.
Under Rule 17A of the Road Traffic Rules 1959, it is an offence to use a cellphone while driving a vehicle unless it is with a hands-free kit or holder.
Police sources said that, as such, it is permissible to swipe and touch the screen of a cellphone that is mounted in a car with a holder.
Federal police Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director Commissioner Datuk Seri Mat Kasim Karim said the law is clear on the matter that no motorist should be holding a cellphone when a car is in motion or even when at a standstill during traffic jams or at traffic lights.
He said motorists are considered to still be in “active driving mode” in such situations.
Comm Mat Kasim said the only exception to using a cellphone in these situations is with the aid of a hands-free kit or holder that is mounted in a way that is convenient and safe for viewing the display screen.
“Using cellphones without a holder during such situations would mean diverting their attention away from the road. This can pose a danger and inconvenience when a driver is required to resume driving when traffic starts moving again,” he told The Star.
Comm Mat Kasim said accidentally dropping a cellphone on a vehicle’s floor and attempting to pick it up while driving can also prove disastrous as it can lead to losing control of the vehicle.
“Our hands need to be on the steering wheel to manoeuvre our vehicle safely,” he added.
He also said that in the absence of a holder or hands-free kit, motorists can only use their cellphones by pulling over at a parking lot.
He reminded motorists that pulling over in the emergency lane without a valid reason is an offence.
Asked if the use of smartwatches while driving is allowed, Mat Kasim said it is permissible as it is not a hand-held device.
In 2020, the police announced that using a cellphone while driving without the aid of holders or hands-free kits was no longer a merely compoundable offence.
Those issued with summonses for the offence would be hauled to court and face a fine of up to RM1,000 or imprisonment of up to three months. The penalty is doubled for repeat offenders.
Last month, a beautician from Ipoh who placed her cellphone on her lap while using a navigation app to drive in Penang was issued with a summons by traffic police.
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Assoc Prof Dr Law Teik Hu said there is ample research to show cellphone usage while driving can lead to accidents.
Law, who heads UPM’s Road Safety Research Centre, said drivers who are partially focused on the road has only a 50% ability to spot oncoming hazards and a 50% ability to react to avert the danger.
“This declines further if a driver is texting with his cellphone, even at low speeds. Motorcyclists, especially ehailing riders who often use their cellphones while riding their machines, are at higher risk of an accident,” he said.
He added that just a few brief moments of distraction in a moving vehicle could spell disaster.
Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of road accidents and fatalities in the world.
Last year, 6,080 people, more than 60% of whom were motorcyclists and their pillion riders, perished in over 550,000 road accidents nationwide.