Mobile phones and driving

It's an increasingly common sight - the car in front weaving erratically across the lane and alternately speeding up and slowing down. Your first thought may be that the driver is drunk but when you eventually get alongside or past them, you see they have a phone glued to their ear or are busy staring down at the phone texting or emailing. It's very dangerous behaviour, not only to the driver but to passengers and other motorists as well.

Irresponsible phone use behind the wheel

Unfortunately, irresponsible phone use behind the wheel has become an epidemic. According to Ministry of Transport statistics, mobile phones or other telecommunications devices were a contributing factor in 25 fatal smashes and 482 injury crashes between 2003-2008.

Research has shown that driving while talking on a hand-held mobile can be as dangerous as driving at the legal blood/alcohol limit - and it can increase the risk of being involved in a crash by 400%. Even more dangerous than talking is texting or emailing. To read messages you have to take your eyes off the road and change your long distance driving focus to a close focus. It means you're driving blind for however long it takes to read the message or key in a phone number.

The danger of distracted driving

Driving safely requires a driver to pay full attention to the road and to other vehicles. Driving while using a phone slows your reaction time if you need to respond quickly to a potential hazard.

Did you know?

Many countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, have also banned the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving.

There are lots of different distractions that drivers can face - from a bee in the car to the children playing up. Using a cell phone is a distraction that drivers have control over - and a choice between being a safe or unsafe driver. If you're involved in a crash and it can be shown that using a mobile phone contributed to the accident, you can be charged with careless use of a motor vehicle, or worse.

Ban on mobile phone use while driving

From 1 November 2009 it became illegal for drivers to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. The Road User Rule states that drivers cannot use a mobile phone:

  • to make, receive, or terminate a telephone call
  • to create, send, or read a text message or email
  • to create, send, or view a video message 
  • to communicate in a similar way
  • in any other way.

Breaching the ban incurs an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

The ban includes other telecommunications devices such as Blackberrys and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) but excludes two-way radios. However, a driver may, while driving a vehicle, use a mobile phone in a way described in 1 and 5 above provided the mobile phone:

  • does not require the driver to hold or physically manipulate it to make, receive, or terminate the call (e.g. Blue Tooth technology)
  • is secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle and the driver manipulates the phone infrequently and briefly (e.g. hands-free kits)

In addition, the Rule exempts drivers who make a 111 or *555 call provided it is unsafe or impracticable for the driver to stop and park the vehicle to make the call; or if the vehicle has stopped for a reason other than the normal starting and stopping of vehicles in a flow of traffic.

AA speaking up for motorists

Support for a ban on using hand-held phones

The AA strongly supported the government's ban on the use of hand-held phones while driving because it will save lives. The $80 fine is fair, although we recommended lower demerit points in our submission to government on the proposal.

The ban does not prohibit the use of hands-free phones while driving. We support this for practical reasons, but drivers should understand that hands-free mobile use is also dangerous. Calls should be kept short and left unanswered if you are driving in difficult conditions or heavy traffic.

Technical solutions

There is also a clear need for technology solutions to alert those texting or calling that the recipient is currently unavailable because they're driving. Vodafone has introduced a DriveSafe service for its customers. When activated, anyone who sends a TXT to your number will get a message saying that you are driving and you will get back to them later. There are currently a number of third party apps on Google Play and Apple App Stores that perform a similar function.

The AA would also like other cellular service providers to introduce a call diversion scheme. These companies provide and sell the phones and they have a responsibility to take a lead on safe use.

What AA Members are saying

When last surveyed, 76% of AA Members supported a ban on the use of hand-held phones while driving.

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