Now police in Cape Town, South Africa, are trying a new approach: They have started confiscating phones for 24 hours. The situation is a little worse for drivers who lose their phones on a Friday, since traffic offices are closed over the weekend. At the time of confiscation, the driver is given an opportunity to retrieve his/her SIM and memory card, the phone is then locked in a sealed box and the driver is issued a serial number. In order to pick up the phone, the driver must produce the serial number and a suitable form of identification.
Even before, South Africa had been tough on distracted drivers. Drivers caught speaking or texting could expect to pay a 500 Rand ($60) or be sentenced to up to three years in jail. The potential prison sentence, it seems, did little to dissuade drivers – Cape Town police say they’ve issued as many as 8,000 fines each month. Police say the confiscating 16 cellphones on the first day of the new approach.
While some might say that giving people the opportunity to retrieve their SIM and memory card diminishes the efficacy of the punishment, it seems reasonable. Aside from privacy issues, cellphones are the primary means of communication for many people. The inconvenience of having to retrieve one’s phone from a police station ought to be disincentive enough.