Talk, text on mobile phone while driving: Cops in Kerala look elsewhere

KOCHI:  The sight of a youngster maneuvering his gearless scooter singlehandedly, with his other hand busy browsing his mobile phone made a scary sight for Perumbavoor Joint Road Transport Officer Shefiq Basheer Ahammed. Before he could stop the youth, his scooter rammed the vehicle in front of him as he failed to apply brake, leaving him seriously injured.

The accident occurred at Onnaam Mile on the Perumbavoor-Aluva route. This is just one incident as more and more motorists talk and text on their mobile phones while driving/riding, even when the policemen are watching.

The police, nowadays, are not bothered to book them. They cite a Kerala High Court ruling which said: “Talking on the mobile phone while driving is not an offence, unless it’s established the driver’s actions endangered public safety.”

‘Offenders’ cite court order while arguing with police

Even if the cops stop a motorist when they feel he is putting other’s lives at risk, he/she gets into an argument with them by mentioning the High Court order. The Court had ruled against booking a person under Section 118 (e) of the Kerala Police Act by observing that “In the absence of a statutory provision to hold that use of mobile phone while driving or riding a vehicle would amount to a dangerous act or it affects public safety, it’s not possible to invoke the Act.”

Ever since the judgment was made on May 16, 2018, the police seem reluctant on booking those people who use mobile phone while driving even though they feel the “offenders” are on the rise. Indian Institute of Road Safety Director Upendra Narayanan said use of mobile phone while driving is one of the main reasons for increasing road accidents. “We need to have tough laws to penalise the offenders,” he said.

A police officer said they used to invoke Section 118 (E) to book motorists earlier. “There are Section 184 of MV Act and Section 279 of the IPC now, but they aren’t severe compared to Section 118 (E).” State Transport Commissioner K Padmakumar begged to differ saying, “Police can book motorists under Section 184,” he said.

State Police Chief Loknath Behera said: “The police have been running extensive awareness campaigns to sensitive people against using mobile phones while driving. We’re using sections other than 118 (E) to book offenders. Once the Centre passes the Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill 2017, we’ll have a tough law against usage of mobile phones while driving.”

Though accidents due to use of mobile phones while driving have increased in the last couple of years, the state police data on different causes for accidents in 2017 do not show it as a reason even though it has a category under the subhead “Other reasons” which show 560 deaths.