Turn on the radio in the morning. Surf different channels. One common feature is the remarkable increase in listener participation. The radio show host endlessly receives phone calls and text messages from all over Korea just when the roads are busiest.
A question is aired and thousands of phone calls and text messages arrive instantly. The host then selects certain phone numbers and sends gifts. Then,
the listeners text message their comments on the song that has just been played, followed by the host’s own responses. Based on this two-way discussion, now the next song is selected. The entire two hour program is composed of phone calls and text messages of all sorts.
But listen carefully next time. Many participants in these shows are those on their way to work, many of whom while they are apparently driving. Just imagine drivers punching in their comments behind the wheels ― and you have to be the quickest with the fanciest phrase to be selected.
The broadcasting companies sometimes issue a general reminder to pull over before texting from your vehicle, but how many people would stop the car in the rush hour to call or text a radio station, which by the way has no guarantee of being picked up and aired? Nonetheless, the host welcomes, solicits and encourages more calls and messages, and jokes and giggles fill the entire airtime.
Be mindful that Korea does not permit the use of cellphones while.
The Road Traffic Act prohibits drivers’ from using cellphones while operating motor vehicles except when the vehicles have come to a stop or when hands-free devices are used. However, perhaps this is one of the laws that are not strictly enforced in Korea. We see drivers looking up and down repeatedly and driving with one hand while chatting on the phone, but rarely do we see police officers actually issue warnings or tickets to them.
The lenience with the cellphone ban seems to stem from the understanding that drivers do all kinds of distracting things anyway inside the car, such as drinking, eating, changing CDs and using electric razors. Some may also argue that with equal logic those pedestrians with their eyes glued to their mobile devices with thick headphones over their ears should be equally regulated.
But statistics abound showing the clear danger of driving while talking on a cellphone. Many of us know how many glances we take away from the road in the course of locating the phone, making the call and holding the phone, let alone the cognitive distraction during the phone conversation. If the laws reflect these concerns, then they should be strictly enforced.
In many instances, it makes a significant difference just to let people know that the government will enforce the law as it is written down. Countries like Norway and Canada are known to strictly enforce the no-cellphone law and adopted various measures to deter the behavior on the road.
Considering the tricky driving environment in Seoul, it strikes many people as odd to find the permissive societal environment toward cellphones and text messages behind the wheel. This permissive environment may explain the morning radio programs’ escalating and sometimes irresistible solicitation of calls and texts.
Next time you listen to radio in the morning, try to count how many times the news host begs for phone calls and texts, and how many of the selected listeners confess, though indirectly, that they were driving at any point of their efforts to be connected with the radio station. Behind the jokes and funny stories being exchanged between the host and the lucky caller, just imagine how many other drivers are fumbling their cellphones while changing lanes. The person driving in the next lane could be one of us.
By Lee Jae-min
Lee Jae-min is a professor of law at the School of Law at Hanyang University. Formerly he practiced law as an associate attorney with Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. ― Ed.