New laws to ban all mobile phone use in vehicles will be considered by Australian transport ministers following the release of a draft report suggesting even hands-free device use dramatically increased the risk of accidents.
Produced by state transport officials, the report reflects growing concern about increasing use of technology and its impact on driver distraction.
According to the report: ”Mobile phone use produces a significant increase in casualty crash risk, regardless of whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free.”
Release of the Draft National Road Safety Report co-incides with a sharp rise in the number of people being fined for using a phone when behind the wheel – one of the fastest-growing driving offences in some states.
During financial year 2009-10 nearly 50,000 Australian drivers were fined for calling, texting, reaching for or even just touching their phone while driving. The draft report, which is being reviewed by federal and state ministers, stated: ”There is evidence to support bans on all mobile phone use while driving.”
The federal parliamentary secretary for infrastructure and transport, Catherine King, said on average 1,500 people died on Australian roads each year, stating that “‘We’ve come to the conclusion that we are going to have to do things differently if we are going to get that road toll lower”. Addressing driver distraction is seen as one of the ways to achieve this.
Ms King acknowledged it will be difficult to stop people using hands-free phones, so the first step would probably be to encourage drivers of heavy vehicles, buses, taxis and government cars to voluntarily stop using phones when driving.
Superintendent Max Mitchell of the NSW Police voiced support for a ban on mobile phone use when driving – ”In my view it is as dangerous as speed and drink driving’.
Various studies have shown the effects of distraction associated with using a mobile phone are similar to those of drink-driving. One piece of research concluded that the level of distraction was equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08, which is considered over the limit in every Australian state.
An online survey of Victorian drivers found almost 60% of mobile phone owners admitted to using them while driving, even though most acknowledged that it was dangerous to do so.
While much of the current research indicates that the most dangerous levels of distraction are caused by activities such as texting and dialling, the proposals, if adopted, would cover all use of mobile phones when driving. Many argue that improved education and use of technology are equally as important as legislation.
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