Driver watching TV kills 3 cyclists, badly injures 4

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Driver watching TV kills 3 cyclists, badly injures 4

GUMI, North Gyeongsang - An accident caused by a truck driver watching television on his dashboard has killed three young cyclists.

The Gumi Police Precinct in North Gyeongsang said that the Sangju City Hall Cycling Team that was training on the two-lane road of National Highway No. 25 in Euiseong County were struck by a 25-ton truck at 9:34 a.m. on Tuesday.

Three of the cyclists were killed and four other team members, including the team’s manager, were severely injured. The police said that the driver surnamed Baek, 66, hit the group while watching the Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) television that was installed in his dashboard navigation display.

The police said that the truck first hit the van that was following the cyclists and rammed it ahead about 100 meters (109 yards) into the bikers. “The driver has admitted that he was watching TV when he was driving,” a spokesman of the police said. The police have secured the testimony after interrogating the driver because the TV was on when police officers and the 119 rescue team were dispatched to the scene. The police filed a warrant to detain Baek yesterday.

“Watching television while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving,” a spokesman for the police said.

A source provided by the Samsung Traffic Safety Research Institute said that drunk drivers whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.1 percent watch the road about 72 percent of the time, but people watching television only watch the road about 50.3 percent of the time.

Drivers whose BAC is between 0.1 and 0.2 percent get from six months to a year in prison or are subjected to a fine ranging from 3 million won ($2,661) to 5 million won.

The police said that 54.4 percent (2,997 cases) of traffic accidents in 2011 were caused because drivers neglected watching the road.

“The current law clearly prohibits drivers from watching television but doesn’t have specific standards for legal punishment,” a police officer told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Though we catch a driver watching DMB, we can’t do anything about it if they just turn it off before we approach the vehicle.”

In the accident, three female cyclists who were in front of the van were killed instantly and four others who were inside the van, including the team’s manager Jeon Je-hyo, 51, who was driving the van, were severely injured.

The police said that the injured people were immediately sent to two different hospitals in Gumi and are currently receiving treatment.

The police said that the cycling team was training for the upcoming Gyeongbuk Sports Festival that will be held from May 11 to 14.

The Sangju City Hall Cycling Team was established in March 2003. It had been dominating most of the big and small cycle competitions held in the country and has won the top prize four times in a row, including in the 92nd National Sports Festival that was held in Gyeonggi in October last year.

By Lee Seung-ho, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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