The Chamber of Deputies has approved stiff penalties for using mobile phones while driving but as a non-governmental organization has pointed out, regulations are worthless if not enforced.
Accidents caused by careless and drunk drivers are the main cause of death for people between five and 29 years old, the second cause of permanent disability and the chief cause of orphanhood.
The proponent of the legislation, Deputy Juan Manuel Cavazos Balderas, said the harsher penalties for people who drive and use their phones — one to three years in jail — is in response to the risk posed by the distraction of using a phone. They are four times more likely to be involved in an accident, he said.
Documentation accompanying the bill stated that every year 16,000 people lose their lives in road accidents, 90% of which could have been avoided.
The non-governmental Panamerican Health Organization disagrees with that figure, putting it closer to 24,000 per year, a trend that will continue to rise, it warned.
Another NGO, Familias Unidas Pensando por la Vida (United Families Thinking for Life), said sending text messages while driving has displaced driving under the influence of alcohol as the primary cause of vehicle accidents.
According to Mexican Red Cross data and a worldwide study by the road safety group IAM RoadSmart, 40% of traffic accidents in Mexico since 2014 have been caused by the use of mobile phones while driving.
The president of United Families told the newspaper Milenio that she welcomed the modifications passed by the Chamber of Deputies.
Nonetheless, “the solution to this problem does not reside in jail time . . . there are already laws in Mexico that are not enforced,” said María Esther García Miravete.
She observed that while Mexico has been bound since 2010 to participate in the Decade of Action on Road Safety, promoted by the World Health Organization, so far only “isolated efforts” have been undertaken.
García stressed that “what is needed more than modified regulations is effective enforcement of those that already exist.”
She offered a model employed in some other countries: when a driver breaks the law points are take away. After accumulating a set number of points the driver’s license is taken away. “That never happens here in Mexico.”
She pointed out that existing regulations, such as speed limits and seatbelt use, go unpunished. “There’s no one to hand out the punishment when the laws are broken.”