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Are mobile phones too distracting for drivers?

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Hands up if you use your mobile phone in the car? I'm going to take a wild guess and say that there are a lot of you with your hands raised right now — me included. The reason I ask is that the transport ministers in each state are currently considering a ban on mobile phone use while driving.

This latest pan-government initiative follows the publication of a new report that found even the use of hands-free devices in the car dramatically increased the risk of crashing. At the moment, being caught handling a mobile phone while driving in NSW will get you slapped with a $258 fine and the loss of three demerit points — a similar penalty to being caught driving 10km to 20km over the speed limit.

On the other hand, WA, which recently moved to legalise the use of hands-free phones while driving, seems to be moving in the other direction.

The draft National Road Safety Strategy doesn't actually suggest banning mobile phone use as part of the strategy's three-year plan, however it does include a reference to "developing interventions to minimise driver distraction" as one of the future steps that will be considered, and mobile phone usage is specifically called out as a widely recognised form of distraction.

So let's talk about distractions, shall we? I wonder if there have been any studies on the results of talking with another passenger while driving, eating while driving, smoking while driving, fiddling with the stereo while driving, turning around to yell at the rowdy kids in the back while driving, or even just daydreaming or looking at the window and admiring the scenery while driving?

These tasks are equally distracting to a driver, and I'd say that they're performed far more often than talking on a mobile phone and can cause an accident just as easily. I should know — those first and last activities I mentioned are what caused me to write off my first two cars! True story!

The report quite rightly mentions that it isn't possible to eradicate or outlaw every form of distraction. Now wouldn't that be a hoot, if governments could make it an offence to eat while you're driving, or listen to music? It sounds absurd, but if we allow governments to ban mobile phone use while driving under the guise of "minimising driver distraction", what will they try to regulate next?

In the past financial year alone, drivers were fined more than $11 million for using a mobile phone in the car without a hands-free. So you have to wonder whether banning mobile phone use altogether while driving isn't just a ploy to make even more money out of this ubiquitous technology.

Don't get me wrong, irresponsible mobile phone use while driving — such as writing text messages, Facebooking and Twittering — have been the cause of many serious injuries and casualties on the road. But banning mobile phone use while driving altogether is a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" approach that doesn't address the broader issue of the danger posed by any distractions while driving. It also ignores the use of mobile phones in the car for tasks such as GPS navigation and music playback.

The federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport has a form online that you can use for giving feedback on the draft National Road Safety Strategy, which closes on 18 February. I strongly suggest you head on over and have your say. And while you're at it, let us know what you think about this issue here in the comments box.

User comments
Over the last twelve months, on 2 occasions in very slow heavy traffic I have had the rear of my vehicle run into by people playing with their mobile phone. Fortunately I drive a tray back ute, and had no damage at all, thanks to my tow bar. I have a blue tooth hands free unit with voice recognition that clips on the sun visor. I paid only $39.00 for it, and had it 3 years already. I dont make calls, but I do take them while driving. My phone stays in my pocket where it belongs. Too many find they have to pick it up and play with apps or something. I cant believe so many people still do it. The fines and the points should be higher. If they say its as bad as low range drink driving then it should be treated as such. If you cant afford blue tooth hands free, you cant afford to lose your lisence.
i agree radio kids and music are just as much of a distraction are we going to ban all of these. just enforce hands free units or go back to the flintstones ages no radio , no speeding (cant do this one government wont get there money ) no distractions at all. technology is here adjust to it !!!
i reckon use shuld stop the mobile im a learner an this person had his full licence an i was driving all good until he pulled out talking on the phone i didnt crash but i got a good scare coz he nearly crashed into me so yes they shuld be banned thats why they invented bluetooth in ur car now so u can talk with both hands on the wheel but i reckon music shuldnt be banned distracting at all
They have become a important part of our lives.There are plenty of other things we do while driving that distract as much as a mobile. Such as changing CD's,setting vents , air con's etc.
If it's dangerous to drive whilst talking on a mobile phone than can someone please explain to me why I caught a policwoman holding a personal mobile phone to her ear yep you guessed it...driving her police car whilst talking away with one hand on the steering wheel! I immediately took a photograph of her in action and still have the pix, I contacted the police station and was told that police have special permission to drive whilst talking on their mobile well excuse me but the last time I looked police officers were just as human as we are, if we can make mistakes on the road because of talking on phones then so can the police, actually its more important for police to be concentrating on the road because it's their job to spot dangerous situations etc....but it seems that these robo cops are above the law! Now whilst on the subject, does this mean that smoking and talking to your passenger will also be banned???
Have been travelling with people who use them while driving. Whether holding the phone or hands-free, definitely has a distracting effect. Made me, as a passenger, feel uneasy and less safe. Hand-free is marginally better, as you don't take your eyes off the road, but still doesn't appeal as safe to me. I know there can be other distractions too, but why add to them. Would like a total ban while driving. You can always get the missed calls from your phone when you finish your trip, and ring back if urgent. And texting in any form while driving is a huge no-no. Absolutely dangerous!
P & L platers NO PHONES at all Others Phone on Car off Car on phone off No Options All cars fitted with traction control
Why are UHF, two way radios and CB's all permitted they need handled with one hand and a button pressed to talk all whilst driving? I think it is a revenue point that's all.
Why don't we ask the families of people that have been killed by a driver distracted by their mobile?. A work collegue of mine was killed last year by a young man that was texting while speeding. I dare you, ask them what they think.
It interests me that in the debate about the use of mobiles whilst driving, no comments have been made in the media (in Perth at least) about the use of two way radio. I believe that the arguement against using a mobile whilst driving is valid, however using Bluetooth technology creates a situation that is no different to talking to a passenger or singing along to the radio. I do have a problem reconciling the dangers of using a hand held mobile and using a two way radio handset. Why is this not a part of the debate? Is it because Governments would need to do a retrofit of all Police and emergency vehicles?

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