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Cablegate: Distracted Driving Demarche Response - Iceland

VZCZCXRO5931
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHRK #0028 0481646
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171646Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4288
INFO RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS REYKJAVIK 000028

SIPDIS

OES/S FOR N. CARTER-FOSTER
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CAR - KAREN JO MCISAAC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON SOCI UNDP UNGA IC
SUBJECT: DISTRACTED DRIVING DEMARCHE RESPONSE - ICELAND

REF: STATE 06703

1. (U) Emboff delivered points contained in reftel to Emil
Hreggvidsson, Director of the Department of International Affairs
at the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on January 15. In
order to obtain the requested information, Emboff also spoke with
Sigurdur Helgason, an official at the Icelandic Ministry of
Transportation.

2. (U) According to Helgason, there is an Icelandic law in place
that explicitly bans the use of a cell phone while driving. Signed
in 1987, and amended in 2001, the law (Article 47 of the Icelandic
Traffic Code) states that the driver of a motor vehicle is not
allowed to operate a cell phone without utilizing hands-free
equipment (e.g. headset). The law has not been subsequently amended
to explicitly outlaw texting while operating a motor vehicle and,
according to Helgason, there are no imminent plans to do so.

3. (U) There is little available data regarding casualties,
injuries or crashes in Iceland related to talking on the phone or
texting. Helgason told Emboff that existing figures on this topic
are, essentially, worthless as very few drivers involved in a crash
admit that cell phone usage or texting played a role in the
accident, primarily because they can be fined if this turns out to
be the case. He did note, however, that law enforcement officials
hand out an average of 10-15 tickets per month to drivers of
vehicles who are using a cell phone or texting. The current fine
for breaking the law is ISK 5,000 (approximately 40 USD).

4. (U) Telephone and insurance companies have sponsored nation-wide
awareness campaigns to discourage drivers from using cell phones or
texting while operating a motor vehicle. Shortly after the law came
into force, phone companies either offered headsets to people for
free or provided them at a significant discount. Many private
companies have also provided their employees with the equipment for
free. Insurance companies, meanwhile, have publicly encouraged
people to park their vehicles while texting or speaking on the phone
if they don't possess the necessary headset equipment.

5. (U) There are some indications that these legal measures and
awareness campaigns in Iceland are working. The Association of
Icelandic Insurance Companies has conducted several surveys on the
topic and their studies indicate that the usage of hands-free
equipment among drivers is increasing. It is estimated, according
to these studies, that about 25% of Icelandic drivers currently use
the hands-free equipment on a regular basis.

6. (U) The overall use of cell phones and text messaging devices
remains prevalent in Iceland. According to the Office of Statistics
in Iceland, 99 percent of the nation's citizens carry a cell phone.
The Office of Statistics also reported that the total number of cell
phone minutes utilized in Iceland in 2008 was 677,880 (thousands of
minutes); the total number of short text messages (SMS) sent were
143,216 (thousands of messages); and the total number of multimedia
messaging services (MMS) sent were 941 (thousands of messages).

WATSON

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