Mobile devices are a road safety menace, NRMA investigation finds

18 September 2017
Woman driving using mobile phone

Distraction of drivers by mobile devices is becoming a major road safety issue – and particularly with young drivers, according to a new NRMA report.

A key finding of Can’t Talk. Driving. is that 41 percent of people involved in serious casualty crashes between 2008 and 2016 where a hand-held mobile phone was a contributing factor were aged 25 or under, even though drivers in this category comprise only 16 per cent of the motoring population.

This is despite law changes that banned P2 drivers in NSW from using mobile phones in any capacity and the statistic supports findings that provisional licence holders are impaired more by mobile phone distraction than full licence holders.

But mobile technology is a threat to all road users: driver distraction in general accounts for nine per cent of total driver involvements in fatal crashes over the same period, while distraction by a hand held mobile phone was a factor in two per cent of all fatal crashes.

Research has also found that older drivers are at greater risk because they have more difficulty multi-tasking and have slower response times.

Around one-in-five of the 1,037 NRMA Members across NSW and the ACT who responded to the survey for our report admitted to using their phones illegally – and a similar proportion reported being involved in near-misses behind the wheel because the other driver was distracted by their phone.

And even though 99 per cent of motorists knew it was illegal to use a phone without hands-free technology, 15 per cent claimed they were not likely to get caught breaking the law.

With less than two-thirds of respondents believing they were likely to be detected using their phone illegally, it is clear that a significant grey area exists for motorists who might be tempted to defy the rules under certain circumstances.

But the majority of Members (55 per cent) have Bluetooth or a hands-free kit set up in their cars, while a quarter keep their phones turned off or out of reach.

Six per cent don’t take their phones with them in their cars, leaving 14 per cent keep the phone turned on within reaching distance but not in a hands-free set-up.

The most popular reasons for using a phone while driving are to let people know where they are (54 per cent), for work (49 per cent), to contact family (46 per cent), to contact friends (28 per cent) and in emergencies (19 per cent).

This might explain why nine per cent of respondents don’t regard talking on a hand-held phone as distracting behaviour, compared to five per cent who read text messages and take selfies or four per cent who surf the web and send text messages.

But with 19 per cent reading texts, 18 per cent talking on a hand-held phone and 11 per cent writing and sending texts while driving, it is clear why fines issued in NSW for illegal use of mobile phones when driving rose 8.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016. 

Download Can't Talk. Driving report here

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