Drivers, be prepared to have your phone taken away: A lawyer explains the new mobile device driving rules.

by Foo Cheow Ming

In Feb 2015, important changes were made to the laws governing usage of mobile devices (handphones, tablets, etc) whilst driving a vehicle in motion. These are some of the most drastic changes of road traffic laws in recent memory. The changes fundamentally alter the way you operate your mobiles devices on the road. It is an offence to hold and use your mobile devices while you are driving. First-time offenders will be fined up to S$1,000 and/or jailed for up to six months. The penalty is doubled for repeat offenders. In practice, a repeat offender faces definite risk of jail time.

What does it mean to “use” your mobile device?

”Use” includes making voice or video calls, reading, sending, composing and retrieving text messages (regardless of the platform, be it SMS, WhatsApp, WeChat etc), surfing the internet, watching videos, operating the GPS function, playing games, checking emails or social media, and/or downloading content with a mobile device while  driving. The offence is committed when you hold the device in one or more hands whilst the vehicle is moving.

Be prepared to have your mobile devices taken away by the police for investigation

What is most significant is how the changes in law have the potential to change Traffic Police standard operating procedure. For all road traffic cases involving injury or otherwise ”serious” collisions (including multi-vehicle chain collisions or where public property such as traffic lights, street lamps or road dividers are damaged), in order to ascertain whether there was mobile device usage at the point in time of the accident, the Traffic Police might have to confiscate for purposes of investigations the mobiles devices of every driver involved in the accident for forensic analysis by the Technological Forensics Investigation Branch of the CID. This would apply to the mobile device of arguably even the victim in the collision. Be aware that even though you may be the most scrupulous driver in the universe with a 30 year accident-free driving record, that is not necessarily true for the drivers of the other thousands of cars zooming around you. Accidents – alas serious accidents –occur whether you are a good driver or not.

This means that following a serious accident, regardless of whether you are the cause or the victim, your mobile device (and the SIM card) might be taken away from you for possibly months. If criminal proceedings then arise from the accident, the mobile device and SIM card would be retained as evidence until the eventual resolution of the case in court. What this in turn means is that you will lose access to your mobile device (and the SIM Card) and all your contacts, phone numbers, email address list, media, photos, videos; and maybe never get them back if they are forfeited in the event of a criminal conviction. If you used your mobile device to take photographs of the accident scene, you will also lose access to those photographs for the duration your mobile device is detained by the police.

Scan through and back up the data on your mobile devices

You should assume that everything on your mobile device will be accessed by the police following such a seizure of your mobile devices. So, if you have anything you do not wish a stranger’s pair of eyes to look at, or even a policeman to look at, make sure such data is not in your mobile device or in any online accounts synced to that device. For those who live a significant part of their lives on-line, I would also suggest that you back up all your essential data and contacts on cloud services.

And for people who use mobile phones as a business tool, you can consider multi-SIM plans offered by your service provider. If you are involved in a serious traffic accident, you should assume that you will lose access to your mobile devices for the duration of investigations / court case.

A tip for avoiding hassle

One possible measure you can take is to lock your mobile device in the glove compartment of the car or put it in your briefcase in the boot of your car. That way, you can prove beyond all doubt that you couldn’t have used the mobile device whilst driving. Using a Bluetooth headset or headphones would not necessarily let you off the hook, because you may still need to hold the device whilst dialing out or receiving a call.

Drivers beware.

The author Foo Cheow Ming is an experienced criminal law practitioner. He is a director at Templars Law LLC.