LGV drivers in Malaysia who use an driver app to chat with each other while on the road are having a hard at the hands of traffic police just for having the app on their phone, drivers claim. During an operation to crack down on law-breaking LGV drivers in Malaysia using roadblocks, all drivers who were stopped and detained in the process had the popular app Zello on their phones.

 

Zello is a ‘push to talk’ app, which means it operates like a walkie talkie, allowing drivers to have real-time voice conversations with each other without actually being on the phone. But this isn’t as simple as cracking down on drivers using their phones at the wheel. Authorities were thought to be targeting LGV drivers in Malaysia who have the app under suspicion that drivers are using the app to alert each other about roadblocks and lorry checks, and thereby helping each other avoid legal checks.

 

However, drivers argue that simply having the app on their phones does not mean they are breaking the law, nor does it prove they are helping each other to avoid roadblocks. The treasurer of Truckers and Snappers Club Malaysia, Khairi Ali, said that drivers use the app simply to chat during long drives – particularly at night. For LGV drivers, says Mr Ali, this allows them to have conversations about all kinds of things, and not specifically about topics related to their driving.

 

“We get tired while driving at night, so we talk to each other and listen to each other’s problems”, he explained. “We don’t use it specifically for evading roadblocks and traffic operations. We use the app to warn each other about accidents or traffic jams.” Mr Ali said that he’d been contacted by around 20 drivers who had been detained as a result of simply having the app on their phones, and that all had been released without charge due to a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.

 

In the UK we don’t have quite the same issues to deal with in terms of roadblocks and LGV checks that would lead to this particular kind of row, but the issue of phone use for new apps like Zello is something we do need to consider as an industry.  As we have pointed out before, mobile phone use at the wheel is a dangerous habit among LGV drivers, and one that the police are taking extreme measures to crack down on. One of the tools police are using to catch LGV drivers talking on their phones at the wheel is an unmarked LGV, allowed police to see inside drivers’ cabs as they drive alongside them on the motorway.

 

But push to talk apps pose a different question. Although they are apps used for conversations via a phone, they don’t require drivers to type or to hold the phone, but simply to tap the screen. It’s likely we’ll see more debate about the use of push to talk apps in the coming months, as the popularity of these apps increases. They are arguably of value to LGV drivers when it comes to warning each other about traffic jams and accidents, but not if they actually cause accidents to happen in the first place.


Drivers who work through the night may also argue that apps like this help to keep them alert, therefore potentially avoiding accidents caused by drowsiness, while others may argue that drowsy drivers are more likely to be distracted by these apps than kept focused on the road.

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