Barbadian drivers need not fear police action for using their cell phones in a stationary vehicle!
Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley today speedily put the brakes on a caution issued by a senior member of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) to drivers that they could be arrested and charged if caught doing so.
Many Barbadians woke up on edge today after head of the Traffic Department Assistant Superintendent Roland Stanford told reporters at a press conference yesterday that under the new Road Traffic Amendment Act 2017 the law was clear that motorists were only allowed to use the mobile phone if they exit the vehicle, or if they use a hands-free wireless device within the vehicle.
While admitting that there had been lots of queries about pulling off to the side of the road to use a cell phone, Stanford said the law was clear about the practice.
“You are still actually driving as long as you are in control of the vehicle and the levers that cause movement of that vehicle. So the only way you are going to use your cell phone is if you are going to actually get out of the vehicle. But if you stay behind the wheel, technically speaking you are still driving,” he claimed.
However, during a hastily arranged press conference at his ministry this morning, Lashley stated “categorically” that “in the Ministry of Transport and Works that we are not in agreement with what was articulated yesterday by the representative of the Royal Barbados Police Force”.
Assuring road users that they had nothing to fear in terms of the recently amended Road Traffic Act, he said: “I want to say to all road users that if you pull off the road, if you observe all safety precautions, you are not impeding traffic, you are not obstructing traffic if you want to make a call using your cell phone, the intent of the law is not to penalize that person.”
In further dismissing Stanford’s view, Lashley said it was an “overly technical interpretation” of the legislation that was intended to prevent people from using their cell phones whilst driving.
“Clearly that is the intent of the law and we believe that if someone driving receives a phone call and decides to pull off the road, thereby observing all precautions and of course adhering to all safety precautions, that person is within the spirit of the law and that it is not the intent of the legislation to penalize that person.
“The intent of the legislation is to deal with that driver who is on the highway or the roadway and using their cell phone,” Lashley maintained adding that his ministry had already put the matter to rest with the RBPF.
“This matter from today I believe is resolved,” he said, adding that consultations would continue with lawmen.
Today, the RBPF, without any mention of censure for the senior officer who effectively misled the driving public, admitted that he “gave an erroneous explanation of the law”.
“A driver does not have to exit the vehicle to use a hand held device. The driver is permitted to draw up the vehicle in a safe manner on a road or highway and make use of the cellular without infringing the Road Traffic Act,” the Force said in a statement after the public reacted angrily to Stanford’s views, with several people taking to social media to vent their objections.
One user said, “This is simply ridiculous. How can you be guilty of using a cell phone while driving when the vehicle is at a standstill? Where do they come up with this logic?”
Another questioned whether “the law understands the meaning of the word mobile”.
Several people also appealed to authorities to withdraw the law and make the necessary changes to ensure all road users clearly understood their responsibilities.
However, in seeking to calm public passions over the issue, Lashley, who is also an attorney-at-law, said today it was unlikely that “any reasonable tribunal or reasonable court would seek to penalize a person who pulls off the road, observing all safety practices”.
The minister said the legislation, which was in the works for more than four years, was in response to information from stakeholders that a number of accidents were caused by distracted driving, including taking calls and texting while driving.
He said the ministry would continue to work with all stakeholders and a public education programme which has already been rolled out by the Barbados Government Information Service would move into high gear to ensure Barbadians fully understood the new road safety rules.
Section 148A of the legislation states “no person shall drive or operate a vehicle on a road or a highway while at the same time holding, manipulating, talking on or using a cellular phone that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communication, electronic data, electronic mail or text messages”.
Anyone found in contravention of the Act is liable on conviction to a fine of $2,000, imprisonment for a term of 18 months, or both.
However, the Act permits a person to “drive or operate a vehicle on a road or a highway while at the same time talking on a cellular telephone that is in hands-free mode”.
Section 3 specifies that “hands-free mode” means the use of a cellular phone which is connected to, or paired with, an electronic device, and“is not held or operated by hand; is voice activated or requires one touch in order to initiate, accept or end a call and does not require the wearing of an earpiece or headset”.