Penalties for drivers caught using mobile phones at the wheel will be toughened with steeper fines and possible prison terms, according to a draft bill released Thursday that is aimed at curbing the practice that has led to a surge in the number of crashes.
Those caught driving while on their phones are subject to fines under the current law, but calls for tougher penalties have been growing, particularly after a collision led to the death of a 9-year-old boy in 2016 after he was struck by a truck whose driver was playing the popular smartphone game “Pokemon Go.”
The National Police Agency will solicit public comments on the bill to revise the nation’s road traffic law for about a month from Tuesday before finalizing it.
The number of traffic accidents that led to death or injury due to the use of mobile phones hit 2,832 last year, marking a 50 percent increase from 2012. Of that total, 40 were fatal, according to the agency.
While the current law states that those who use a mobile phone while driving a vehicle will be fined up to ¥50,000, the draft bill calls for a fine of up to ¥100,000 or a prison term of up to six months.
Similarly, a person who poses a threat to traffic through the use of a mobile phone may be subjected to a prison term of up to one year or a fine of ¥300,000, instead of the current penalty of a prison term of up to three months or a fine of up to ¥50,000.
If a driver causes an accident that results in an injury or fatality due to driving while using a mobile phone, the person’s driver’s license can be suspended for up to 30 days, according to the draft bill.
Distracted driving cases that pose a threat to traffic would be excluded from any form of special lenient treatment which allows people who commit a petty violation to avoid being criminally charged if they pay a fine.
The agency is also considering raising the fine amount for cases that did not pose a danger to traffic and are covered by the lenient system by threefold from the current ¥7,000 for large vehicles, ¥6,000 for regular cars and motorcycles, and ¥5,000 for small motor vehicles.
Last year, there were 915,623 cases of people using mobile phones while driving, and an additional 174 cases in which drivers posed a danger to traffic, according to the agency.