DMB watching ban pivotal to driving safety
By Kim Rahn
Distracted by watching a television program on a navigation device, a truck driver ran over six cyclists, killing three, Tuesday.
The accident has incited public calls for stricter regulations on not only using cell phones while driving but also watching digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB). It is already illegal for causing negligent driving but the law is not comprehensively enforced.
On Tuesday morning on a two-lane road in Uiseong, North Gyeongsang Province, the 25-ton truck crashed into a van driven by the coach of the Sangju City-sponsored female cycle team.
The truck pushed the van forward for about 100 meters more, and the two vehicles ran over the cyclists who were cycling ahead of the van. Three of them died, while three others were injured. The truck driver, a 66-year-old Baek, and the coach were slightly injured.
After the accident, police found the DMB device in the truck was on and Baek said he was watching a soap opera.
“The driver said he was watching the television and only after hearing a loud noise while colliding with the van did he realize he had caused an accident. He steered left immediately and braked but it was too late. We presume he was driving at around 70 kilometers per hour,” a police officer at Uiseong Police Station said.
But police said there were no skid marks for about 100 meters from the site of the first collision. “It might be that Baek stepped on the accelerator by mistake instead of the brake as he was engrossed in the drama. It seems he wasn’t aware of what had happened for a while after the initial crash,” the officer said.
Police sought an arrest warrant for the driver.
This incident supports studies that show watching television while driving is more likely to divert drivers’ attention than driving under the influence of alcohol.
According to the General Insurance Association of Korea, a driver watching DMB has only about 50 percent of the ability to observe what’s in front compared to a driver not watching it. This is less than about 72 percent of the ability of a drunken driver whose blood-alcohol concentration is 0.1 percent, the amount subject to license cancellation.
It takes six seconds on average for a driver to operate DMB devices or a navigation system behind the wheel. This is the equivalent of driving a car for 118 meters without looking at the road at a speed of 70 kilometers per hour.
Despite this, regulations for watching DMB while driving are slack in Korea.
The Traffic Law bans it but no black marks or fines are imposed on the violators.
“When revising the law last year, we were to enforce penalties for DMB watching while driving. But the National Assembly scrapped the plan citing public sentiment because watching DMB behind the wheel is so widespread. Without penalties, it is difficult to crack down on DMB watching and it is also hard to prove the drivers were watching DMB if they turn off the devices just before policemen stop them,” an official at the National Police Agency said.
It is a lenient measure compared to cell phone use during driving — a violation that is subject to 15 black marks and fines between 60,000 won and 70,000 won according to the type of vehicle.
The insurance association plans to hold campaigns for revising the law to enforce heavier penalties.