By P. Aruna and Austin Camoens
PETALING JAYA - Traffic authorities have warned against the dangerous trend among Malaysian motorists who are on Facebook, Twitter or uploading photos while driving.
Speaking over the mobile phone or sending text messages are common but many motorists have now taken it a step further in endangering their lives as well as other road users by connecting to social networks while driving.
Police and the Road Transport Department (JPJ) issued a total of 100,143 summonses to Malaysian drivers caught using mobile devices last year.
As of June 21, police had already given out 44,688 summonses while 3,501 were issued by the JPJ in the first five months of the year. Almost 20 per cent of the offences were committed in Selangor.
Federal traffic deputy chief Asst Comm Mohd Fuad Abd Latiff warned that any form of mobile phone usage while driving is an offence.
"Updating Facebook and Twitter accounts while on the road is a new trend by motorists, especially about traffic conditions.
"They may think that they are doing a public service by informing about the traffic situation but they are committing an offence and putting themselves and other motorists in danger," he told The Star.
ACP Mohd Fuad said some motorists were even using their smart phones to take and upload pictures while driving.
He said under Section 17A (1) of The Road Transport Act, motorists were liable to a fine of RM300 if caught doing so.
"I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is for any driver to take the focus off the road as this can potentially lead to fatal accidents.
"Motorists must be completely focused on controlling their vehicles because accidents can occur within a split second," he said.
Malaysia Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) director-general Assoc Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon said using smart phones to connect to social networks was more dangerous than sending text messages.
"Connecting to social networks or uploading photos take at least several seconds of attention away from the road but accidents can happen in a less than a second," he said.
Dr Wong said some road users justified their actions by claiming that they were able to multi-task or concentrate on both their phones and the road at the same time.
"The reality is, anything that distracts you from the road even for a few seconds is unsafe," he said.
A check on Twitter showed that many Malaysian drivers posted updates about traffic conditions while behind the wheel.
Among some of the recent tweets were: "Roads are jammed because of the rain. As expected," "Why is the MRR2 jammed at this hour?", "Why is the highway jammed up in the middle of the day?!", "The NKVE is filled with lorries" and "The federal highway is jammed at Sunway because of a minor accident".
The tweets were obviously posted by motorists while driving. Some tweets also warned other drivers about the presence of police cars or roadblocks in specific areas.
Engineering student Devan Selvaraj said he was used to update his Twitter account while driving.
"I usually do it when I am stuck in a jam or caught in slow-moving traffic. But I am very careful not to take my eyes off the road for too long," he said.