Drivers and motorcyclists using handheld mobile phones or electronic devices while on the road face fines of NT$3,000 and NT$1,000 respectively after the legislature approved a series of amendments to the Act Governing the Punishment of Violations of Road Traffic Regulations (道路交通管理處罰條例) yesterday.
The updated regulations also increased the penalties for drunk-driving offenses.
The legislature approved the amendments with almost no objections, with lawmakers expressing their concern over road safety following a recent series of fatal car accidents involving drunk or distracted drivers.
The new amendments forbid the use of any handheld device — such as cellphones and handheld computers — which impede safe driving, including when stopped at a red light. It covers dialing or talking on a cellphone or computer and connecting to the Internet.
The old regulation only prohibits drivers and motorists from dialing or speaking on handheld cellphones when they are driving.
More people are addicted to their smartphones and use them even when in control of a vehicle, said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞), one of the lawmakers who proposed the amendments.
“The [amended] legislation has clarified the definition on the violations, leaving no gray area in law enforcement,” Lee said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津), the Transportation Committee convener, said increased cases of drunk-driving had alarmed lawmakers, which prompted the series of amendments.
Last month, the mother of an eight-year-old girl was killed after being hit by a drunk driver in Greater Kaohsiung and her grief-stricken husband died several days later.
The amended legislation doubles the suspension period of driver licenses for those drunk drivers with passengers under the age of 12 in their cars.
Punishment for drivers who trespassed railroad crossing would be also doubled, increasing from a fine between NT$6,000 and NT$12,000 to one between NT$15,000 and NT$ 60,000.
Currently, drunk-driving is punishable by up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to NT$200,000, while the maximum sentence for causing a death while driving drunk is seven years.
“The objective of the amended legislation is to raise public awareness of the negative impact of driving while intoxicated,” Yeh said.
Lawmakers have recently discussed new punishments for drunk-driving, including a proposal to recategorize deaths caused by drunk-driving as homicide instead of manslaughter.