‘Ban all electronic devices behind the steering wheel,’ urges Belgium’s interior minister
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‘Ban all electronic devices behind the steering wheel,’ urges Belgium’s interior minister

Credit: Belga

Using any kind of electronic device behind the wheel of a car while driving should be illegal, says Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden, calling for an expansion to the law that currently only bans the use of smartphones.

She argues that the legislation doesn’t take into account many of the technological advances made in the 20 years since the mobile phone ban was first introduced into the Belgian Highway Code.

“Technology has advanced to such an extent that the legislation no longer corresponds to reality,” Verlinden said during a visit to the Brasschaat police zone on Wednesday.

At the moment, the Highway Code states that a motorist may not use a hand-held portable telephone except when his vehicle is stationary or parked, however, Verlinden said this should include all devices that distract people’s attention.

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She specified that the ban would only apply to a device not attached to the vehicle, so as not to include the touchscreen displays common in newer vehicles, or a cell phone attached to a special holder like those used for drivers to navigate using GPS on their phones.

The issue of banning cell phones while driving has been brought to the forefront by the recent controversial decision to ban Uber drivers from using their smartphones to book fares, rendering the American technology giant effectively unable to operate in the Belgian capital.

Verlinden says banning all distracting devices from being used while driving should be brought before parliament so the existing legislation can be updated to match modern times.

Every year, around 10% to 12% of all 4,000 accidents with fatalities or injuries that occur in Belgium involve some form of distraction, according to research by the Vias road safety institute.

This research also showed that 1 in 5 drivers under the age of 35 uses the mobile phone while driving.

The bill to expand the law against cell phone use while driving was first submitted last month by federal MP Jef Van den Bergh of the Flemish Christian-democrat CD&V party.

“There are more communication devices than just mobile phones, and this must be reflected in the regulations. Drivers still do not sufficiently realise how dangerous this behaviour is, but mobile phone use has become a real killer in traffic,” said Van den Bergh.

He is also looking to increase the penalty if the law is broken from €116 to €174.

Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times