Texting while driving - put the phone down!
Mobile phones are an integral part of life for many Australians. So much so that despite it being illegal for drivers to hold a mobile phone to make or receive a call or send a text message while driving, many drivers still doii,iii. Driving is one of the most inherently risky activities that people undertake every dayiv due to plenty of distractions both inside and outside the vehicle, some of which can be hard to avoid. Using a mobile phone, however, is one potential distraction that you can control to keep you and your family safer on the road.
Distraction, which includes the use of a mobile phone, is one of the most common contributing factors to road crashes in Australiav. The total economic impact of road crashes is estimated to be $27 billion per annum and includes the financial burden placed on the health care system as well as victims' familiesvi. The Government has taken a proactive approach to help reduce the number of accidents over the years by implementing safety initiatives such as mandatory seatbelt legislation and reduced speed limits in school zonesvii and more recently, in New South Wales, the Get your hand off it campaign.
Despite the legal consequences and increased awareness of the dangers of texting while driving, many people still choose to take their chances while behind the wheelviii. The 2013 Community Attitudes to Road Safety survey showed that 32 per cent of drivers admit to reading a text message and 18 per cent of drivers admit to sending a text message while drivingii. Inattention or lack of concentration was rated as one of the top perceived factors contributing to accidentsii.
Illegal use of a mobile phone while driving can result in heavy fines and demerit points. Currently in Victoria you can receive a $443 fine and lose four demerit points if you are caught using your phone behind the wheeli. In New South Wales, the penalty is slightly less at $298 and three demerit points (unless in a school zone where the fine is $397 and four points)ix. For most drivers, if your phone is secured in an approved cradle, you are permitted to make hands-free phone calls and use your phone for navigational purposes onlyvii. If you are unsure about the penalties or regulations in your state or territory, check with your local traffic authority.
Determining whether or not the use of a mobile phone was a contributing factor to an accident can be difficultvi. Available research does show that most accidents caused by texting drivers are more likely to be minor, rear-end collisionsx. Taking your eyes off the road to look at your phone for just 4.6 seconds means that you are effectively 'driving blind' for 75m if you are travelling at 60km/hxi. Aside from losing sight of the road ahead of you, using your phone to send or read a message while driving poses many other risks as well. Slower reaction times, risky decision making when turning or merging into traffic and veering into other lanes are all more likely if some of your attention is being focused on the phonei.
In a recent safety report, the NSW Parliament Committee on Road Safety recommended increasing enforcement of current laws and investing in technology to detect in-vehicle use of mobile phones within the state. The report also recommends targeting high-risk driver groups, such as provisional drivers to ensure they are following all road safety rulesx. Car manufacturers have also begun to recognise the need for increased safety measures, especially for young drivers. Ford's MyKey technology can help provide parents with some peace of mind by blocking phone calls and text messages when a mobile phone is paired with the Ford SYNC Bluetooth systemxii.
All drivers can be proactive about their safety behind the wheel by taking advantage of the hands-free technology offered with today's smartphones.