Move to put brakes on phone-mad cabbies

Those rows of mobile phones on the dashboards of taxis could be banned or restricted to promote road safety, says Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan.

In a written reply to lawmakers yesterday, Chan said the government is aware that more and more drivers, especially taxi drivers, have placed several mobile phones on their dashboards, but he hinted that there will not be a complete ban.

“The government understands that drivers may have practical needs to use mobile phones or other devices – for instance, obtaining information about navigation, real-time traffic conditions and parking spaces,” Chan said.

“As to whether further restrictions should be imposed on the use of or placing of mobile phones and other devices while driving, we would accord the highest priority to road safety while accommodating practical needs.”

Chan also said the Transport Department is conducting a study into the technology development of mobile phone and vehicle devices as well as the change in habits in using them.

“The department is considering the direction of regulating the number and location of mobile phones to be placed by motorists, and the purposes of using them,” Chan said.

The department is looking at regulations and practices in other jurisdictions, and observing the use of mobile phones and other devices on vehicles by motorists, said Chan. It will also consider factors such as whether motorists would have to switch between multiple mobile applications if restrictions are imposed on the number of mobile phones placed on the dashboard while driving.

“Upon the formulation of concrete proposals, the government will consult stakeholders in due course,” Chan said.

The government also hopes that the multifaceted efforts in legislation, publicity and education, license application and law enforcement can help motorists to continually improve driving habits and maintain safety awareness at all times.

Low Shih-cheng, a deputy director from the Motor Transport Workers General Union, said the new regulation will not affect normal taxi drivers who have only up to two mobiles.

“Those having a rack of mobile phones are those who are picking their own orders, gangs that offer discounts to passengers. It will not only block the drivers’ view, but will distract the driver at the same time,” Low said.

“Law-abiding drivers only need at most two phones – one for communication and one for navigation – and therefore I propose the law amendment should bar drivers from having two or more mobile phones on their dashboards.”

Law said a ban will enhance road safety as other vehicles would be covered, but it is hard to say whether it will affect taxi drivers’ overall salaries.

Jessica Wong, a 22-year-old university student who commutes across the harbor to school, said: “Drivers have these mobile phones to get more business for their own sake and, as a customer, I am not really affected by it as long as I can get to my location safely.

“Also, most of the drivers I have seen only have two to three mobile phones in front of them, which is not that concerning, in my opinion.”

But Natalie Yip, who often calls taxis to commute between Wong Chuk Hang and Sha Tin, said it might become more difficult for her to get a taxi.

“I want to catch a taxi because I am in a hurry, and there are few taxis for hire near my place in Wong Chuk Hang. It is not ideal for me to spend 15 minutes hailing a taxi on the street when I need one urgently.”

She also said it is difficult to find taxis that are willing to cross the harbor during rush hours because of heavy tunnel traffic.

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