19th Sep 2016
The crime of “Distracted Driving” is a new legal term.
Punished under Republic Act No. 10913, which lapsed into law during the latter part of August 2016, a person caught running a vehicle with one hand, while operating any electronic communications equipment such as a mobile phone, two-way radio, tablet, hand-held computer, video player, gaming console, or even a calculator, with the other hand, is guilty of the crime of Distracted Driving, and will be subjected to increasing fines from P5,000.00 to P30,000.00 and suspension of his or her driver’s license, depending on the frequency of the violation. This penalty is in addition to other already existing liabilities under the Revised Penal Code and special laws, most especially where the distracted driving causes injury to persons or property.
RA 10913 does not only punish the “distracted driver”, the owner or operator of the vehicle driven by the offender is directly and principally liable with the offender, subject of course, to certain defenses.
Interestingly, the law punishes the act of distracted driving on-board private and public passenger vehicles, end even those operating of wheeled agricultural machineries such as tractors, and industrial machines like cranes and bulldozers. Even other non-motorized modes of transport such as bicycles, pedicabs, wagons, and the like, are covered.
The law does not limit itself to public thoroughfares, roads, streets, and highways, but includes “circumstances where public safety is under consideration”. Thus, long gone are the days of happy grocery shoppers who text with their mobile phones while pushing their grocery filled-trolleys in parking lots and malls. These too, would have to be considered as “distracted driving” under Republic Act No. 10913.
Those operating “habal-habals” and “kuligligs” should take care not to use their mobile phones while driving. Similarly, those who still drive wagons, carriages, carts, and mighty “chariots” should be mindful to pocket their mobiles while riding the saddle, or tugging on their horses’ halters. Cowboys, beware!
Strangely, while it does not snow in the Philippines, slegdes, which are vehicles commonly used for conveying passengers or loads over snow or ice, are likewise covered by Republic Act No. 10913. It appears that dear-old Santa Clause better watch out, lest he be tagged “naughty” by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) or the Philippine National Police (PNP), for distracted driving, if caught holding his cellular while tugging on Rudolf this coming holidays.
And for the rest of those who really have to use their mobiles, the law exempts motorists using their phones for emergency calls, such as calls made to the police, health care provider, fire department, and the like. Similarly, there are those exempted from the provisions of the law, such as motorists driving emergency vehicles, like an ambulance or fire truck, while on the job.
The law, unfortunately did not define what an “emergency purpose” is, and to be sure, calling the office when one is late for work is not what the law envisions as an emergency purpose. It is expected that when the implementing rules are issued, this should be defined, but until then, it is up to the MMDA and the PNP to decide whether the motorist is naughty or nice.
In addition, those using their mobile device with the aid of a hands-free function, such as a speaker phone, or those using devices which allow a person to make or receive calls without holding the mobile device such as wired or bluetooth headsets, and those who actually pull-over to the side, and stop the vehicle before reaching out for, and operating their, mobile phones, are not guilty of distracted driving.
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