Distracted Driving: Are You at Risk?
Driving distracted is when you’re doing anything other than concentrating on driving while you’re driving.
This could mean that you are looking after children, texting or talking on your mobile phone, talking to a passenger, watching videos, reading or eating.
When your attention is taken of the road and the other vehicles around you, you dramatically increase your risk of being in a collision.
Mobile Phone Use
We know that mobile phones are an integral part of every Australian’s life. Even though mobile phone use is illegal across Australia, ⅓ of drivers still text while they are driving.
While it might be easy to ignore a phone call or text message while you’re on the road, our mobile phones are used for so much more - email, streaming music, updating Facebook or tweeting the latest news.
You may even find yourself taking a selfie or photo of the sunset, a rainbow, or that next model Ferrari.
We're pretty sure this guy pulled over for the photo. Photo: Flickr/Seniju
You really ought to resist the temptation to reply to that message, or snap that selfie, or snapchat some in-car dancing.
In fact, Apple's iOS 11 will give you the option to automatically block incoming notifications when you're driving, and will even auto-reply to contacts listed as favourites to explain your delay in responding.
And definitely don’t play games on your phone while you’re driving!
Is staying connected worth the risk?
In 2013 the Australian Government Community Attitudes to Road Safety Report found that 32% of drivers admit to reading a text message, while 18% sent a text message while driving.
And in 2015 a Deliotte survey showed that 42% smartphone owners used their phones while driving.
By 2017 this is bound to have increased again, given the infiltration of our mobile phones further as we increasingly put them at the centre of our daily organisation and connection.
This data may not present the whole picture, as a George Institute road safety study showed that across NSW and WA, 60% of drivers are using a mobile phone while driving.
By using your mobile phone while driving, you increase your risk of an accident by at least 4 times.
This is because you are subject to a 3-fold distraction when you use your phone.
3 Types of Mobile Phone Distraction
Taking your eyes off the road for just 4.6 seconds means you’re driving blind for 75m if you’re travelling at 60 km/h.
If you’re looking down at your phone to send a text, you could easily miss a road sign, or fail to see a pedestrian, cyclist or another vehicle.
When sending or reading a text, your eyes are away from the road ahead 4 times more than if you weren’t using your phone.
You’re not just losing sight of the road ahead, when your attention is focused on your phone, your reaction time is slower.
Even having a conversation over a bluetooth connected phone, you are challenging yourself to process extra information, increasing the difficulty of both tasks that you’re doing.
It’s more difficult to concentrate on driving safely if you’re having a complex conversation at the same time as navigating peak hour traffic, wet roads, or unfamiliar routes.
When your mind is partly on the conversation and partly on the road ahead, you increase the chance that you’ll make a risky decision when turning or merging in traffic, as you haven’t been paying attention.
If your hands are holding your phone, they aren’t on the steering wheel, ready to use the signals, change gears, activate the lights or horn if something occurs on the road ahead.
Don't end up like this truck driver, keep your eyes on the road. Photo: Flickr/Paul Townsend
With your phone in your hand it’ll take you longer to respond to a change on the road and increases the consequences of a crash.
Not just dangerous - mobile use is expensive!
- In SA, the fine for using a mobile phone is $308 plus the $60 victims of crime levy. You’ll also be docked 3 demerit points on your driver’s licence.
- In Victoria, you’ll get a fine of $443 and lose 4 demerit points for using your mobile phone.
In fact, the ban extends to smart watches for email, social media, text or video messaging, receiving phone calls, music, or navigation.
- In New South Wales it’s $298 and 3 demerit points, or $397 and 4 points if you’re in a school zone.
- In WA you’ll be hit with a $400 fine and 3 demerit points or using a hand-held mobile, whether it’s for creating, sending or reading a text message, video message, email or other notification. This applies even if your phone is securely mounted.
- Queensland has a fine of $365 and 3 demerit points, with double demerit points applying if you commit a second offence within one year of the first.
- In the NT, the fine is $250 plus 3 demerit points.
Note that all of these fines apply to using your mobile at the traffic lights, as well as while the vehicle is actually moving.
Non-mobile Distractions while you drive
- 72% of drivers report lack of concentration
- 69% adjust in-vehicle equipment
- 58% are distracted by outside events, people, or objects
- 40% talk to passengers
Distracted driving when it’s not mobile use still attracts a fine of $176 in SA, for ‘not having proper control of the vehicle’ or the more serious charge of ‘driving without due care or attention’.
The second infringement will send you to court, where the maximum penalty is $2500.
Talking to a passenger is different to talking on a mobile phone, as when a dangerous situation arises, the passenger can stop talking and allow you to concentrate on driving safely.
With a mobile phone call, the passenger can’t see the danger, and will keep talking, further distracting you and putting you at risk.
Each year road crashes cost the Australian economy in excess of $27 billion.
It’s not just the initial cost of the crash, damage to the vehicles, and injury, but the ongoing burden placed on the health care system and the families of those who are injured.
In South Australia, inattention is the cause of nearly 30% of fatal crashes and 45% of serious injury accidents each year.
It’s not worth the risk, as you’ll put yourself in danger of running off the road, or rear ending the vehicle in front.
You can live without your mobile phone
The best time to use your mobile phone is when you are not driving.
Switch your phone off or put it on sleep mode when you get into the car so you’re not tempted by the sound of an incoming notification.
Let your calls go to message bank, and return them once you arrive at your destination.
If you need to take a call or make a call, pull to the kerb in a safe place, put the car into ‘neutral’ or ‘park’ with the handbrake on, before you touch your phone.
How CAN you use your mobile?
Basically, if you need to use your mobile, or smartwatch, it needs to be secured in a commercially design mount fixed to your vehicle.
The basic rule of thumb is not to touch your phone. This means you need to connect it to bluetooth to make or receive calls.
With the correct setup you can use your phone to:
- To play music - as long as it’s set up to play before you start, this doesn’t mean sifting YouTube as you drive!
- As a driver’s aid - for navigation or as a reversing camera. Once again, set the route or app before you begin moving the vehicle.
- To make or receive calls via bluetooth handsfree
Remember, the key here is that you must not touch your phone while driving, no matter what you’re using it for.
With your mobile phone stashed safely, you can use a bluetooth system to make calls and play music safely. Photo: Flickr/DrivingtheNorthEast
Guidelines to safe driving with your mobile
- Using an app like ‘Road Mode’ to prevent you being distracted by your phone during the drive.
- Set up voicemail so callers can leave a message, and return the call after you stop driving.
- Plan breaks in your trip for phone calls.
- Pull over and park safely to take a call.
- Don’t make calls in heavy traffic, poor road conditions, or bad weather, even if you’ve got the correct bluetooth setup. In these conditions you need to be 100% focused on the road.
- Never look up phone numbers.
- Never send or read text messages.
- Use a hands free device.
If you're looking for an affordable and highly functional bluetooth unit to upgrade an older car, we found a great model called 'Dashbot' at number 11 in our favourite car care products list you should check out.
Learner and P Plate Drivers
In 2015 AAMI ran a study of 18-24 year old drivers, finding that 86% admitted to distracted driving, 14% to taking selfies or videos behind the wheel, and 17% having a near miss because they were using a phone or tablet.
In most states and territories, the laws are stricter for young drivers still on their L plates or P plates, banning the use of even hands free devices whilst driving.
Being able to see what's ahead makes the drive safer! Photo: Flickr/poppofacticus
Other Essential Driver Safety Precautions
Real life data indicates that despite the dramatic increase in mobile phone use while driving, the strict laws put in place are effective in ensuring that accidents caused by mobile use while driving make up just a small percentage of Australia's annual road toll.
A 5 year study analysing 8 million hands free calls found that just 2 confirmed crashes occurred during phone use.
There's a higher risk of accidents caused by falling asleep, driving fatigued or intoxicated than using your mobile in a legal way.
However, it’s entirely possible that accidents during hands free calls are under reported.
When a fatal crash occurs, the true circumstances behind the accident aren’t always included in the immediate data, only becoming apparent later down the track.
One example is a 2012 accident where a truck hit a 9 year old boy. In the court hearing which occurred some years later, mobile phone distraction was found to have cause the accident. This wasn’t recorded in initial accident data.
Should mobile phone use be totally illegal?
The minimal driving safety impact observed for drivers who legally used handsfree devices makes a strong argument for keeping use of hands free mobile use legal, especially for solo drivers on long drives, when drivers need some form of stimulation to fight fatigue.
Wearing a seatbelt & not driving when you are intoxicated or tired will play a huge part in making sure you get home safely.
I hope this article helps you understand exactly what the rules are around using your mobile when you’re on the road. Safe driving!