The Irish Mail on Sunday
Loophole that lets you Tweet at the wheel
New texting law does not cover Viber
A loophole in new legislation which permits the use of Facebook and other online messengers while driving could result in the loss of lives, road safety campaigners have warned.
The legislation, introduced by the Department of Transport on May 1, bans drivers from texting while driving, even if using a hands-free kit.
However, campaigners have pointed out that the law makes no mention of online messengers such as Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook or Twitter.
It means that drivers can freely use these online messengers without breaking the law once the phone is in a cradle or hands free kit.
Gertie Shields, founder of Mothers Against Drink Driving (MADD), said the Government needed to take action.
‘There shouldn’t be loopholes, that’s been the problem for years, there’s been far too many loopholes,’ she said. ‘No stone should be left unturned.’
It was already illegal to text message while driving. The changes were brought in to close another loophole which allowed people to escape fines and penalty points if the phone was secured in a hands-free kit.
But the new laws refer only to sending an SMS (text) or MMS (picture) message, and do not mention online messengers.
Whatsapp and Viber are popular messaging services which can be downloaded to a phone
‘It takes your attention from the road’
and used to send messages. The process is identical to sending a text message, except it is sent via the internet rather than by the mobile telephone network.
‘Some clever lawyer will use this to find a way to get their client off on the day of the court hearing,’ Mrs Shields argued.
Mrs Shields, 84, has campaigned for road safety since her daughter Paula was killed by a drunk driver in 1983.
Of online messaging services, she said: ‘It’s dangerous because it takes your attention from the road. Every single loophole should be covered.’ The new rules mean anyone caught texting on their phone will face a mandatory court appearance and a fine of up to €1,000 for a first offence.
Martin O’Neill, of Just Search/ Digital Tech pointed out that gardaí now face the scenario of trying to establish whether drivers were texting – or simply updating their Facebook page.
He said: ‘This dangerous practice must be dealt with definitively and using your mobile device while driving should become socially unacceptable.’
The Department of Transport accepted that using messengers such as Facebook is not banned under the current legislation, once the phone is in a cradle, but denied it was a loophole.
The spokesman argued that there had been ‘no point’ listing popular messaging services, such as Whatsapp and Viber, ‘only to find out in six months’ time that people are using something different’.
The spokesman said that primary legislation is needed to tackle online messengers, and this will be covered in the upcoming Road Traffic Bill.