By Lauren Ferrone
Published: Wednesday, November 6, 2019
With one hand planted on the steering wheel, you fumble for your mobile phone with the other. That’s your first mistake.
Your eyes dart down for a split second and quickly back up to the road. Second mistake. Don’t be l8, the message reads. Mistakes happen and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a second chance. Unfortunately, luck isn’t always on our side.
It’s nothing you haven’t already heard: using your mobile phone behind the wheel is not only dangerous, it’s against the law.
For many motorists, the message still isn’t getting through. In 2018, there were 8519 mobile phone offences recorded on roads in South Australia. And that’s just those who got caught. Even more motorists are putting themselves at up to 4 times more risk of crashing by picking up, or just touching, their mobile phone.
Mobile phone offences
In 2018, this many mobile phone offences were recorded on SA roads
You’d think statistics like this would be enough to put the mobile in the glove box and leave it there. Out of sight, out of mind. However, figures from the Motor Accident Commission – which ceased operations in 2019 – show inattention and distraction (including mobile phones) are factors in more than a third of road fatalities and half of serious injury crashes.
On the front line, South Australian CFS Regional Commander John Probert knows better than most the dangers of distracted driving.
He’s witnessed 30 years of twisted metal and tragedy along some of the state’s most notorious roads, including Dukes Highway – the major route between Adelaide and Melbourne.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when John attended his dad’s funeral and saw him in “one piece” that he got a reality check. Death shouldn’t be blood and gore.
“I was so used to mangled bodies that it was odd seeing my dad peaceful in his coffin. It just looked like he was sleeping,” John says.
Dying on the road, especially when you’re using your mobile phone, isn’t how anyone’s time should end.
It’s not hard to see why CFS responders and volunteers view death differently.
“We’ve been impacted by sights and memories we’d rather not have,” John says.
Like the time he pulled a family from a fatal wreckage 4 years ago. While the cause of that crash wasn’t identified, many road accidents John attends – especially on regional roads – are put down to driver distraction.
John’s road safety plea isn’t any different to others you’ve heard on the radio, seen on the TV or had drilled into you by friends and loved ones. It does, however, come from first-hand experience of seeing people in their most vulnerable moments.
“[Drivers] need to understand they’re using a potentially lethal weapon every time they step inside a vehicle,” he says.
“Turn your mobile phone off and put it in the glove box.
My dad used to say, ‘Treat everyone on the road like they’re idiots’.
“Expect them to do something stupid, like pulling out their phone, so then you’re always prepared for what’s coming.”
Can I dial a number on my phone while driving?
Drivers can only make a call if the phone is securely mounted in the vehicle. Learner and P1 drivers are banned from doing this.
Can I answer a call while driving?
Touching the phone or keypad to answer a phone is only allowed if the phone is mounted securely. Again, Learner and P1 drivers are prohibited from doing this.
Can I send a text message or email while driving?
No. Drivers are not permitted to send a text message or email while driving, even if the phone is securely mounted or they’re waiting at traffic signals.
What if I’m using Bluetooth, a headset or earphones?
Drivers mustn’t rest the phone on any part of their body. They are, however, allowed to touch the earpiece or headphone.
In 2018, the University of South Australia surveyed 413 motorists in a study which revealed young working people were among those most likely to use their phones while driving.
- 1 in 5 respondents reported frequent use of their phone while driving.
- Accepting incoming calls was most common while driving.
- 1 in 3 respondents said they’d never used their phone behind the wheel.
The final word
According to RAA road safety expert Charles Mountain, the majority of drivers still don’t consider using their phone as dangerous as speeding.
“It’s a major concern that motorists still continue to put themselves and others at risk by using their phones while driving,” he says.
That’s why RAA’s calling for drivers on South Australian roads to put their phones away – whatever it takes.
“Even while stationary at traffic signals, drivers need to be aware of their surroundings at all times,” Mr Mountain says.
“Remember, during those few seconds that you’re concentrating on your phone, anything could happen on the road in front of you. All it takes is a split second.”